I’m going to talk about world-building today. Not because I’m an expert, but because as a reader, I just “read” two books where the authors didn’t have a clue how to create a world.
The first was a SF romance and basically, the story is humans need a new planet because Earth is going to be destroyed. Along come some aliens who need help with falling birth rates and are willing to offer humans a home since we’re all compatible enough to breed together. Now, this isn’t that bad of a premise but there is a problem with the execution. Once on the other planet, there isn’t any flora or fauna different enough to raise fear or awe in the newcomers. Just like being at home. Oh, except for one plant that eats a human while the aliens shrug their shoulders and say “Nothing we can do.”. WTF?
In addition, the humans are housed in dormitories that like any college with furnishings they immediately understand. Clothing, food, etc., is exactly similar to home. And to top things off, the humans are matching up with other humans while in the background, females are singled out to breed with human males, whether they want to or not. Yet they never warn the other women when they’re released. And the only alien who looks like he’s going to match up with a human is the hero.
Needless to say, I only got about five chapters read before I gave up on this book. Now the second book, I completed. It won’t win a RITA, but it wasn’t a bad little story. The premise is that Earth has had a major medical catastrophe and the survivors band together. Our heroine finds a group that have found an abandoned resort and hunkered down, avoiding the crazies out in the world. The infrastructure has collapsed and nothing works.
While this author didn’t have to do major world-building since the planet itself wasn’t damaged, our happy band was lucky enough that at this resort just happened to have everything needed to maintain life as we know it. They happen to have a doctor who can use the fully stocked sick bay. There is plenty of gas to run the emergency generator for power. They can even live for years on all the food stored in the pantries! Like anyone a couple of years into disaster would abandon any place this well stocked!
In both cases, because of poor world-building, the reader has difficulty immersing themself in the story. Even worse, we don’t get to see the characters struggle against worlds that offer some awesome challenges. We also don’t get to see them triumph against all odds.
A good rule of thumb is, if you can remove all extraordinary elements in your story and still have a story, you haven’t built the world you want to show. If you write a story about a world-wide catastrophe, be sure you show us things that horrify us and make us mourn the loss. If you set your story on another world, show us the wonder of the alien, both in people and worlds.