A few months ago, I finished Neil Gaiman’s novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. In terms of its language and themes, I thought it was fairly similar to Coraline, another novel with a YA hero.Each story was successful not only for including rich characters, compelling plots, fluid prose, and accessible language, but Gaiman was also able to build immersive worlds.
In each work, the protagonists cross over into a different realm. Gaiman maintains the reader’s interest by establishing rules in each world as well as consequences for breaking these rules. I’ve found this to be the most important aspect of world building. How does the world work? What are the boundaries? What happens to a character who goes beyond those boundaries? Are the rules and the consequences established, consistent, organic, and sensible?
Even if an author successfully answers these questions prior to writing a novel, ensuring consistency throughout the piece is difficult and can only be ensured through meticulous editing. Once those rules start breaking down, the narrative dream every author so desperately tries to create for his or her readers will crumble, and the story simply becomes unenjoyable.
It’s not enough to simply think of an alternate universe a character can occupy. It’s about creating a world a reader can believe in.