World Building is a slow, painstaking process. As modern writers we don't have the luxury afforded us that our predecessors had of the infamous "Info Dump". (God I hate that term) We have to be coy. We have to be sneaky. We have to take our ever loving, sweet ass time building our world. And hope to god that our readers don't lose interest and wander away to watch the latest installment of "Survivor: Mall of America" on Netflix.
So. What exactly does it mean to build a world? How Deep do you know the environment you have created for your characters?
Lets start simple. Food. Shelter. Clothing.
What do they wear? And maybe this isn't a simple question. Because in many cultures clothing is a status symbol. But for the sake of argument lets just say it's simply clothing. Do women wear skirts only, or are they 'allowed' pants? Leather? Cotton? Do people make their own clothing or do they buy it?
Ah. And here we get into a deeper question. Society Structure. (See how things start to have a domino effect?) So...If people make their own clothing, what kind of society is this? Hunter/Gatherer? Warring tribes? I understand quite a few of these implied questions can be answered by knowing what time period you are writing in...but if you read my previous post...one can never assume you know anything about a story. Go Deep into your Culture. If you know the simple details like where or how people get their clothing, writing descriptions of that clothing won't be so hard. Do you see?
Food. How do they get their food? This is another basic need that can lead down a rabbit warren. Do they grow their own? Do they truck it in, fly it in, replicate it, hunt it down? But, knowing how they get their food is just part of the puzzle. What do they eat? Are they vegetarians? Do they eat mainly meat, cheese and bread? I read an interesting blog post on Rothfuss's blog about how most Everyone who writes fantasy will inevitably have their characters sitting around a fire eating stew. No explanation about what's in the stew or how it was made. Just that it's stew, and they were eating it. It drove him nuts. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized he's right. And now...yup...drives me nuts too. So. Keep that in mind. No stew. Well. Unless it's fall. Then it's ok.
Shelter. Again. Not so simple a question when you get right down to it. Who builds it? Where and how do they get their materials? (A plot point RIFE with corruption potential!) Who takes care of the shelter? Is it a community thing? A family thing? Women? Men?
Now again. Even though it's beginning to sound like maybe Tolkien and Dickens had the right idea...No. BAD. Step Away From The Long Exposition! Really it's just YOU that has to understand your world in this level of detail. That way when you are writing along, you don't get tripped up by simple details and your world starts to feel flat to the reader. Simple sentences like (a bad example) "She opened the door to her boudoir and surveyed her domain." Or, "He called his first meeting of the village elders hoping this time they would take his role as war leader seriously." These types of leading sentences go a long way to explain what it is you're trying to do.
I've been reading a lot of steampunk lately which has massive amounts of, well, interesting clothing in it. Gail Carriger to be specific. She's great at little details like this. She just makes passing mention of going to the seamstress for the latest in Dirigible Wear. Skirts with weights in the hem. Suit coats with the same. That kind of detail adds a lot to the believability and depth of your world.
Even if this is a world of your own creation I would do research. Research societies like the one you're building. It will give your world a bit more realism, not to mention it may give you ideas for things you hadn't thought of.
What other details of these 'simple' needs have you found to be not so simple to explain in your World Building? How did you remedy the problem?