The Three Brackets of Worldbuilding

To a reader, one thing that really grips us into the story and lets us slide so easily into the words on the page is the way in which the author builds the world that the characters live in. To craft a setting for the story to take place might sound like a simple and […]

 

To a reader, one thing that really grips us into the story and lets us slide so easily into the words on the page is the way in which the author builds the world that the characters live in. To craft a setting for the story to take place might sound like a simple and easy task, but there are definitely ways in which writers can develop their world to make their settings so much more than just a setting; they can make their settings seem like characters. And that’s why worldbuilding is often one of the most important aspects of a book.

For me, there are three different kinds of worldbuilding that I pick up on as I read. There’s the first noticeable and obvious form of worldbuilding; the building of an actual physical world, usually found in fantasy books when the author has to literally create an entire new world to throw their characters into. After that, I tend to see a natural and emotional form of worldbuilding; to me, this is where the characters are a part of the world, rather than having to fit into the world, and where the world continues to develop throughout the book or series. In this form, it doesn’t feel like the world is just there for the characters, rather, the story itself is about the world. And finally there is more of a universal worldbuilding; where the author may or may not have to create a world for their characters, but more than that, they have to fill their world with whatever beings inhabit the world, with history and depth to justify the current state of their world, all the while sticking to the importance of crafting the world through the emotional journeys of the characters involved

I’ve chosen three books which I think fit perfectly into these different brackets of worldbuilding. Three books which showcase the different ways in which authors develop their settings and their worlds.

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PHYSICAL WORLDBUILDING

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For this bracket, I’ve chosen the THRONE OF GLASS Series by Sarah J. Maas. Usually when you open up any fantasy book, you’ll be greeted by a map on the first few pages. Sometimes the map is nothing more than an indication of where things are in the make-believe world, but in the case of books like THRONE OF GLASS, the map is more than that. Sarah creates a vast world in the Throne of Glass series where everything is believable. The places which the characters go, the stories they tell; everything seems real. And because of this, the world seems to breathe back, as if a character itself.

EMOTIONAL WORLDBUILDING

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One book comes to mind when I think of a sense of emotional worldbuilding, of a world where we can truly believe the world that we are in and can truly understand the setting working as a character, and that book is the wonderful DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth. The setting itself may seem normal enough, but the way in which the world itself has been shaped throughout the course of the book (and the rest of the trilogy), and the way we learn of its shaping leading into the book, truly gives the feeling of the world in a very frighteningly realistic way.

UNIVERSAL WORLDBUILDING

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Finally, there is one series which I think truly encapsulates and showcases an incredible sense of worldbuilding both on a physical level due to the scope of the world created, and the emotional levels of investment we find in both the world itself and the characters crafting the world into what it is; The Shadowhunter Chronicles by Cassandra Clare (consisting of both The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices) Cassandra Clare has written both of her hugely successful series’ while sticking true to the natural and physical sense of the setting of the Shadowhunter world, while also creating some of the most interesting beings, be it magical or monstrous or humanly, and no matter who or what the character is, they all have such natural and detailed emotional arcs.

What are your favourite examples of worldbuilding? Which books do you think fit well into these three brackets? Let me know in the comments.

Michael is a graduate of the University of Stirling with a degree in English Studies. When he's not juggling reading four books at once, you'll probably find him exploring medieval castles around Scotland.

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