South Calcutta, circa 1920

There are dozens (hundreds?) of articles on world building in fantasy and science fiction novels. But what about in other genres? We cannot forget that in any novel, no matter what genre, you are creating a world for your reader. Whether it is a small town in middle America, Calcutta during the Raj, or a space station orbiting a different sun, you are taking your reader from their comfortable world and transporting them into the world of your novel.

So, does this mean that all writers need to study world building?

Well, it probably couldn’t hurt. But writers who write contemporary fiction don’t have to worry about a lot of the issues fantasy or historical writers need to think about. For both of those genres, an author may need to explain an economic system, mores and culture, and how people lived in their every day lives. Contemporary authors can safely assume that readers will understand the workings of the fictional world without it being fully explained to them.

It’s odd to think that the world of a historical novel could be as different to a reader as that of a reader of fantasy or science fiction, but indeed it may be.

Because of this, authors of historical books need to, first of all, fully understand the world themselves. That requires a good amount of research. For most authors, this isn’t a problem. It’s more a problem to stop researching, rather than get started. But once all that wonderful research is done, you need to do the hardest thing—you need to set it aside and trust that what you’ve read will come out in your novel without you having to pause the action of your book to explain it to your reader.

Stopping the forward momentum of your is the greatest danger when you are building a world. Too many authors—both historical and scifi/fantasy—stop their stories dead in order to explain how something in their world works. Even worse, new writers of historical novels have a terrible tendency to simply reword the research they’ve read and dump it into their book. You end up with paragraphs of dry boring history. When I’m reading a novel, I want to read a novel, a story, not a history text book.

If the historical background of the story is absolutely essential for the understanding of the story, I would recommend you do one of two things: work the information into the dialogue (either external or internal) or add an author’s note. If the story cannot be understood without this information, you can even put your author’s note at the beginning, before the story actually begins.

The best option, is obviously to work information about the world in as seamlessly as possible so your reader hardly even notices that it’s there.

Good luck with this and don’t forget to beware the info dumps!