On the meetings we had during NaNoWriMo 2016, apart from their tablets, laptops and Neo typewriters, a couple of my new writing friends had with them notebooks with extensive notes on worldbuilding. I took a look at one girl’s notebook and saw she had pages dedicated to each of her novel’s characters. She had a character’s image, some basic information and then a text that described them in more detail.
I found out she wrote fantasy, my only knowledge of it being Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones with the extensive history and plethora of races, so I figured, “ah, that’s how these guys do it.” I pushed the information aside, rightfully believing I had no use for such a thing. I write contemporary fiction.
A few weeks later, that same friend and I began discussing worldbulding again. Well, when I say discussing, I mean she was doing all the talking and I was doing all the listening. “But I do not need worldbuilding, right?” I sheepishly asked at one point. The dialogue that followed was something along the lines of:
Friend: Does your character work somewhere?
Friend: Don’t you want to know how far his workplace is from home? Or how long it takes him to work and back? Does traffic bother him? Does he drive, does he commute, does he walk to work?
Friend: Has he got any hobbies? What annoys him? What’s his favorite food? Has he got any allergies?
Me: …I think he drives to work!
Friend: Dude, you need worldbulding.
It turns out I did.
Another friend in the same group told me her main character is a schoolgirl. So, she needed to know her timetable. Not include it in the actual book. Just know it for herself. “It would be weird to have the girl take a Math test on Monday when I had her have Math period only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, right?”
Let’s say you are reading a book series and you get to book 4. You find out a major plot twist that has you rambling about for weeks. With everything you know about worldbuilding now, do you really think the author just thought of the twist before sitting down to write book 4?
Also, timelines are a major part of worldbuilding. If you include flashbacks in your work, like I stupidly have, you need to know when things happened. Chances are readers won’t notice if there’s a tiny error in continuity. But your characters will. Don’t do this to them. They will get confused and develop suicidal behaviors. And you won’t have the chance to kill them yourself.