It is very easy for authors to get so caught up in advancing plot lines, twists and turns, and riveting action that they forget their stories are set in a world into which they need to draw their readers. Without a tangible, three-dimensional setting they can poke around in, see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, readers will never fully achieve that immersion and willing suspension of disbelief that are the earmarks of a truly great story.
One way authors can do that is by putting little things into their world that the characters would notice but that don’t necessarily have anything directly to do with the story line. Life is like that in reality. Every day we experience sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and sensations that mark our reality but have nothing to do with our daily routine or the main points of our lives. Adding these details help bring your story to life and immerse your readers into a three-dimensional, tangible world.
One example of this I put into my Chadash Chronicles stories was something I made up called “yochama bread”. It really wasn’t any amazing feat of worldbuilding, but I remember how incredible the resin baked potatoes at Cracker Barrel were, before they stopped making them, and I also remembered a snippet I saw about a minority people in China who partially baked bread and then later finished the baking when it was ready to eat. I just combined those two concepts and voila! Yochama bread was born.
It is an expensive delicacy baked by a people who live in a swampy area. Knowing how quickly things can spoil or mold in a humid environment, this seemed like a good solution. It seems a meaningless detail, but more than one reader found it fascinating and asked me if I had the real recipe for yochama bread! You know you have done something right in your worldbuilding when readers ask you for recipes for foods you completely made up.
I have little details about foods, holidays, festivals, cultural traditions, architecture, etc scattered throughout my books. They really have nothing at all to do with the main storyline, but readers have commented how real and immersive my setting was for Chadash Chronicles. It is taking the time to sow in little details like that which make a huge difference in the reader experience. With them, a story ceases to be just a string of action interspersed with peppy dialogue, but a genuinely immersive escape to another world.
With so many authors keyed on production and turning out several books a year, authors that take the time to slow down, let their readers walk around, smell, taste, touch, see, and hear the wonders of their setting truly stand out from the crowd. I don’t care if an author produces only two books a year or one book every two years. Those who take the time to create a complete, three-dimensional world for me to kick around in are the ones I will gladly wait for time and again. They are worth the wait.
David G. Johnson is an author and teacher with a BA in Asian Studies and a MDiv in Biblical Languages who currently resides overseas with his family serving as teachers and living witnesses of their faith. David has been an avid Fantasy and Science Fiction fan for over thirty years and has now turned his cross-cultural experience to the task of blending Sci-Fi/Fantasy fiction with a biblical.
His primary series, Chadash Chronicles, is a fantasy series in the tradition of C.S. Lewis, blending Fantasy Adventure with biblical truth. His current work in progress, Star Wolf, will be the first of hopefully many opportunities to showcase his Science Fiction side.