by R.C. Lewis
A funny thing happens sometimes when you read book reviews—your own or otherwise. (I know, I know. "Don't read your reviews." Good advice in general, but you do you.) You see a lot of contradictions, and one in particular I've been thinking about.
Reviewer #1: This book is full of amazing, rich world-building!
Reviewer #2: This book could've been good, but the world-building was pretty much non-existent.
(Not real review quotes!)
So, who's right?
They both are. Reading is subjective, and I think when it comes to world-building especially, it varies by both perception and preference. Some readers crave detailed descriptions painting the exact picture as the author intended it. Others want just enough on the page to trigger a mental picture of their own, leaving some of the work of creation up to them.
Neither is wrong.
Some readers focus on the visual aspects—geography, clothing, architecture, art. Others pick up on the less concrete details—sociological, cultural, historical influences on characters' lives.
Again, neither is wrong.
Perhaps the most objective evaluation of world-building would look at how fleshed-out and detailed the world is in the author's head. If only we could know. Alas, all we have is what's on the page, so that's what we have to go on.
That's why it's tricky assigning value judgments like "good" and "bad" to it.
My advice to authors (including myself!) would be to focus first on that off-the-page world-building. Make sure your virtual world is fully realized and makes sense. Then let that reality filter and ooze and weave through the story in whatever way fits your style. Always try to do better, but realize that if readers knock it, it may just be that your style isn't for them. And it will be for someone else.
What do you like to see in world-building? Pet-peeves? Tips for excellent execution?
R.C. Lewis is the math-teaching, ASL-signing world-builder of Stitching Snow and Spinning Starlight (Oct. 6, 2015), both from Hyperion. You can find more information at her website, or find her random musings on Twitter.