Pigs. In. Space.
For those of you who don't know, Pigs in Space was an ongoing skit that the old Muppet Show used to do. I've included a clip below for your nostalgic viewing pleasure.
Now whether you thought that clip was awesome or cheesy or both. (I vote for both), you now have one burning question.
What the heck do pigs in space have to do with worldbuilding?
I'm glad you asked.
No matter what kind of worldbuilding you're talking about, everyone has the same problem: how to create a world that stands out. It's a serious dilemma, really. Too predictable and cliche and your story will feel stale. Too exotic and experimental and the reader can't connect.
How do you build a world that's both fresh AND accessible?
The answer is simple: you combine ideas. You take one strong idea and pair it with another strong--but completely unrelated--idea. And then you figure out how to make them work together. Pigs in Space took the tropes of sci-fi television and added, well, pigs. Not-very-bright, not-very-brave pigs. Poof! Instant humor.
It can work for you too. In fact, it can be as simple as taking your favorite story elements and shifting them to a different setting.
Holly Black's fascinating Curse Worker series is about con-men and mobsters in who live in a world where people can do things like alter thoughts or change someone's luck with a touch. Cassandra Clare took the world she built in her Mortal Instruments series, shifted it to Victorian-era London, added a dash of steampunk and ended up with Clockwork Angel.
In essence, the Pigs in Space principle boils down to one simple directive.
Give yourself permission to play.
Play with your ideas. Combine settings, combine characters. Move the whole kit and kaboodle to ancient China and see what happens. Give everyone telepathy. Make rutabagas essential to your magic spells. Make writing illegal. Have every character fluent in interpretive dance.
Have fun with it.
At some point, you'll move two ideas together and something will spark. You'll think "Hey, that's kind of cool," and before you know it you'll have a world on your hands, a vivid engaging world that fascinates you as much as it fascinates your reader.
And if that doesn't work, try throwing in a few pigs.