Most of us are fairly certain that we know what worldbuilding is. When we hear the term we think of fantasy and science fiction writers spinning up whole new worlds on the page. In reality, it doesn’t matter what you write. And that leads us to the first thing you need to remember about world building.
Worldbuilding Is for Everyone
Worldbuilding is all about creating a setting that feels real to the reader. Because of this, it doesn’t matter if you are writing fiction or nonfiction. If your setting is a medical lab in the 1920s, you want it to feel real. This means that you need to bring the sights, sounds, smells, and even the “feels” alive.
Use All the Senses
Bringing your setting alive is a matter of using sensory perception. Often, we rely on our sense of sight. So if the setting is a 1920 medical lab, you would describe the tables and microscopes and various gear. You might work in the smell of cleaner or the sound of someone closing a door. But for your setting to really sing, you need to, at least occasionally work in taste, how something feels, and even the sense of motion.
Those three are often the most difficult. But in this setting perhaps your character is chewing gum. That would bring in both the motion of chewing and the taste of the gum. Touch might involve the surface of a table or the sharp edge of a slide.
Make It Matter
The more research you do the more tempting it becomes to work it all into the story. Whether you are writing a contemporary mystery or a historical fiction romance, you should only use the setting details that matter to your story. If your story takes place in Pittsburgh, you don’t tell about the entire city. You tell about the city where your character happens to be. You also the note the specific details that would matter to your character.
A character who is indifferent to art is not going to describe the paintings on the walls unless one of those paintings is crooked and your character has OCD. Or perhaps the painting is a hunting scene and your character is an animal rights activist.
World building is something we all need to do when we right. The trick is in creating a balanced depiction that gives the reader a sense of place without slowing things down.