What makes a book a great read? Being sucked into the story, of course. Awesome characters, wonderful dialogue, terrific plot… What more do you need?
A rich setting. Without it, a reader might as well be studying a cookbook.
I once read about thinking of setting as being on a Star Trek holodeck. That’s an apt description. Let the reader touch the beautiful flower, instead of just admiring its beauty. Discover the velvety appearance is really like scraping fingers over bricks, its smell akin to wet dog or rotting fish.
And remember the rules. Any world has a set of rules—whether it’s the real world we live in or a fantasy world. Break the rules of how things work and the reader becomes confused, thrown out of the story while pondering what the author said back in chapter two when the rule had the opposite effect. Just as a character reacts in certain ways, so should the setting. The world is its own character in the story.
Long narratives aren't needed or welcome. The best descriptions unfold naturally as the characters interact with their surroundings. How many of us have skimmed the pages-long explanations of the inner workings of an engine? *raises hand*
The more common problem though—at least for me—is too little description. As the world-builder, I know my setting. I have to remind myself to see it through unaccustomed eyes. The reader doesn't have access to the many details locked up inside my imagination.
Right now I’m working on two completely different worlds, bouncing back and forth between them. The Jewels of Chandra series has five separate Kingdoms, each different from the other four and each with their own set of rules and problems. The magic, the terrain, the creatures—all are unique and yet each realm is filtered through the eyes of my MC, a man originally from Earth.
Death and Chronos are getting a novella of their own as well. The setting is mostly the Earth as we know it but with the added urban fantasy dimension of my hapless Greek gods creating havoc for us mere mortals. Not content to leave well enough alone, I’m destroying the timeline too!
If you’d like to experience my worlds, I have two FREE books to give you a taste of things to come. The links for both The Fall of Shaylar, prequel to the Jewels of Chandra series, and Living the Afterlife, a Death and Chronos flash fiction collection, can be found by clicking here.
As readers, what elements of world-building do you appreciate most in a story? Which of the five senses do you identify with the most? Do you hold your breath when a character gets sprayed by a skunk? Do you imagine hearing the crash of thunder when a character jumps from the sudden bolt of lightning? What about the burn when someone touches a hot stove? I think for me, I’d have to go with smell. What say you?