All writers need to make some decisions before they even begin writing their story. One of the most important decisions is where is the story set? This is the world where the story takes place. If the story is contemporary fiction, the real world will be sufficient, but if the story is science fiction or fantasy, then the writer has to create a world for the story.
When building a world, it is important to be consistent. Depending on the type of world under construction, there are specific rules to follow. This is the essence of world building. This Central Michigan University website, has links to several explanations on various processes that have shaped the Earth. This type of work allows authors to create realistic, consistent worlds. The physics of the world must be consistent and make sense within the confines of known physics, for a story based on hard science. If the world is based on fantasy, the author must develop rules for the world to play by. This world building resource website has a number of links to world building tools and websites where you can get more information.
A fictional world should have limitations and rules that cannot be broken. It is best to develop these rules before writing one word of the story. Sometimes, the rules are premade, as in stories set on Earth, or Mars. These worlds exist and therefore are easy to use.
Climate is an important part of any world. This part determines whether the characters can just go outside and work, or must put on space suits or other protective gear. The Central Michigan University website has a number of articles on the various forms of climate found on Earth.
In world building, it is useful to know or have a series of equations to calculate the orbit of the world. There are orbits where life can exist. There are also other areas where life could exist, but would not be like that of Earth. A good tool for creating believable star systems is StarGen. Simply enter the desired information and the program will create a star system that could conceivably house life. It can be configured to generate the orbit of an earthlike planet around another star. I used this program to generate the orbit of the planet in my current work in progress, The Accidental Colony. Of course, this information does not appear in the final story. There’s no reason to do that, but I know it and it helped me make the right decisions on the climate that my characters must contend with, which I set as a cross between the American Prairies and the African Plains. Perhaps I mean the American Prairies as they were during the Pleistocene. Either way, I populated it with vegetation and animals that my characters could utilize.
Planetary physics doesn’t have to be the only focus of world building, but authors need to be aware of it and what limitations it imposes on the world under construction. Everything should have an explanation behind it. That explanation may not appear in the story, but the author should know it and all the limitations of the world. In The Accidental Colony, I put a limit on the building materials because it made sense that they would bring pre-fabricated habitations wouldn’t have an unlimited supply of them. They might be able to use wood from the forest or jungle, but getting that wood would be a challenge. That sort of limitation should, and does in my novel, come out in the story.
The point is that, while the reader doesn’t have to know the specifics of the world, the author does. Otherwise there is no way the author can write a believable story. An unbelievable story disappoints readers and they are unlikely to read anything more from an author who has disappointed them.
Authors who ignore the specifics of the worlds they create can often fail. There’s a lot that goes into writing a novel, short story or what have you, that never appears in the novel, short story, what have you, but it is still important, if the story is to be believable. Now authors who write about twenty-first century earth or any time period in Earth’s past have different issues when creating their worlds, but the essential one of orbits, climate and weather, can be taken from the world around them. They have other things to guard against, no waterskiing in the Sahara, at least, not in historical times and Roman Legions should never travel by jeep, unless the author is using alternate realities, then anything goes.
The point is to make a world believable; there are natural rules that characters must follow, even if the author makes those rules up. In a normal earth type situation, nothing falls up. If an author makes a world where things can fall up, then he/she had better explain why things fall up. This is part of creating a world, where readers can suspend their disbelief. Explanations don’t have to be stated directly; simply implying the underlying rule works well and has the added advantage of not interrupting the flow of the narrative. That’s why the author has to know all the rules, how they work, and why they work, so he/she can imply them to the reader and get on with the story.
Character actions have to fit the world and abide by the rules of the world. Otherwise, the story loses all tension and the reader throws it away in disgust. The author loses a reader, and readers are why authors write. Storytelling is an art and authors must take care to make the story work for the reader.
Some writers say that they write to please themselves, but deep down inside, they ache for a reader. At least, that’s what I think, anyway. sculptures are often constructed around a framework that is not visible in the finished piece, that’s what world building is, the framework that holds the piece together.