World building is the process of assembling a place for your fiction to happen. How much of it you need to do depends on what your plot requires. The world building needs of science fiction are different from those of fantasy. You can also use the real world, but you will still need to create some sort of fictional settings. Anything to do with settings falls under world building. How much it requires is, as I said, dependent on your plot requirements. You need to answer questions on what the characters should be doing for a living, where they work and so on.
In science fiction, you may need to create an entire solar system, if not universe. That sounds involved, but you have to do it so your characters have a place to do whatever the plot has them doing. How involved you get in the process is, as everything else in writing, up to you. Sometimes all you have to do is answer some questions about the technology and society. You have your world. That’s if you base it on the Earth. Some authors do that and not much more, while others make maps of their worlds and get quite detailed.
In fantasy writing, you have to ask about the terrain and technology. If magic is present in your characters’ skillsets, you have more questions to answer. Ask a few questions about each category and move on. Write up a complete legal system, tax system, farming techniques. Put in whatever serves your plot. Do you have wizards and witches in your fantasy? How does the magic work? Is magic an anything goes kind of power or are there some limitations in place? Working that out will go a long way towards making your life easier when it comes time to write the first draft.
Even if you are writing contemporary fiction, you will need to do some world building. There’s a reason so many books are set in fictional small towns or neighborhoods in real cities. In that regard, the world building is simpler but no less important. Your characters need to have some place to live and work. But you don’t want to risk a lawsuit by using real places, unless you can’t avoid it. If you must use real world places, be sure to show them in a neutral to good light and you shouldn’t have any problems.
World building is a balancing act. How much you need to do depends on what your story requires to make it believable. That, after all, is our goal as authors, to make our stories as believable as we can. I’ve only skimmed over this topic. I plan to do more in upcoming blogs. World building can be the most important thing you do aside from writing the actual story. It may not show in the story, but it needs to be there. Otherwise, there is no place for you story to sit. Nothing much happens in a vacuum. Keep that in mind.