So often in the act of world creation it is very easy to focus on the obvious things. Putting together your world’s history. Structuring the geopolitical landscape. Figuring out cultures and climates. And all sorts of other big world ideas. All very important, but I don’t think that’s what makes the world come alive.
I believe that if you want to transition your world from a two dimensional set-piece, to a living breathing world that really draws your readers in, you have to highlight the little details. Show snippets of everyday life. Meander just slightly in order for them to see that there are things happening in the world that have a weight and history to them beyond the scope of your current story’s plot.
Cinematically speaking, think of all the intricate design that Weta Workshops put into the props they made for the Lord of the Rings and Narnia movies. They didn’t just go for the bold strokes that would be obvious to the general movie-goer, but instead put in the craftsmanship to create things as if they were real and were going to be inspected under the microscope.
As an author, you can’t go into that much detail, but you can get the same kind of ideas across by having small interactions, conversations and observations that bring a clearer view of what it is like to live in your world.
It can be a tough balance to strike, as too much little side-descriptions will bog your story down. But if you skip them all together, then I think your world will be painted with too broad a brush and will appear as little more than a backdrop to your story.
What books have you read where you were caught up in the world as much as you were in the story? What was it that sucked you into the world? (And try to skip the usual answers of LoTR/Hobbit and Narnia.)