Worldbuilding redux: Don't forget the details!

One of the best things about being in a debut group like the Lucky 13s, is that I get to read some really cool books in advance. I'm in the middle of Kit Grindstaff's awesome-creepy middle grade The Flame in the Mist, and I just finished Elsie Chapman's book Dualed


This book kicks all kinds of a$$. Short plot synopsis: In order to become a recognized adult, able to marry, get a job, etc, every person in the city of Kersh has to track down and kill their genetic alternate. Once you've been "activated" you have thirty days to do this or both of you die.

Again, I say. Whoa.

At this point you're probably thinking "Book reviews are cool but isn't this a worldbuilding post?"

Yes, yes it is. And you have Dualed to thank for it. See, reading this book reminded me of one of my favorite things about good worldbuilding.

The principle of Logical Outgrowth.

Logical Outgrowth means that you take the defining characteristics of your world and play them out in the details. It means that every small part of your world fits together, makes perfect sense

For example: What kind of culture grows around a system that means at any given moment, two teens may have a shootout in the street? How do the businesses and government systems adapt? How do those adaptations feed into the cat-and-mouse tactics these kids have to use?

If I were to pick something that Dualed does very well, it would be this attention to detail. Everything about the society and the everyday operations makes perfect sense.  But since most of you haven't read it yet, let me use another example:

In Holly Black's Curse Workers trilogy, there are certain people who have dangerous powers or curses. They can wipe your memory or make you feel things you don't really feel or change you into something else. But they have to touch your skin to do it. This leads to a world where everyone wears gloves and where a bare hand is considered as agressive as a knife.

Logical outgrowth. Natural consequences.

If you can take your story idea and follow it into the logical result, if you can take that logical result and weave it into your story, you can build a world that feels completely authentic.  

And you do that primarily with details. It's hard to get people to read pages of backstory and world explanation. But if you can use your details well, you won't have to. And the details can be anything, from traditions to architecture to language.

In Frank Herbert's book Dune, there is a phrase that perfectly captures the kind of detail I'm talking about.  Dune is a desert planet, home to group of people known as Freman. They live in the deep desert, with no natural sources of water and thier culture reflects that. Water is precious and should be conserved even when it comes to tears. To cry at someone's death is to give a great gift.  When one of the main characters cries at the death of another, the desert people are impressed and say "He gives water to the dead."

What a perfect way to demonstrate the priorities of this group of people.

I've had conversations with people who tried to make their books as generic as possible so no one could say they got anything wrong or so they could "appeal" to everyone.  Don't do this. That leads you and the reader down the road to Blandtown. And no one wants to live in Blandtown.

Have faith in your vision. Find what makes your world special, what makes it different, and then go as far as you can with it.  Give us the details. We, the readers, will thank you for it.

Can you think of any other books or stories that do this well?


  1. charlotterobsonauthorAugust 17, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    Fantastic post! I love doing this in my worlds, it's really good fun, and I get to play with all sorts of twisted responses . . . hehehehe.

    Great work :D

    - Charley R

  2. First of all, I love your blog and can't wait to read your book! I love this post, it is so true, and very helpful! It is so refreshing as a reader to have deep, real, and unique worlds to visit in spare time.

  3. For me, it has to be Justin Cronin's THE PASSAGE - I just love that book! Seriously excited to read DUALED as well.

  4. A classic post-WW2 Brit world I loved was Mervyn Peak's TITUS GROAN / GORMENGHAST. Anyone read? And yes, I'm eagerly awaiting Dualed too!! Think I need to work in a bookstore, lol...

  5. Yay more book recommendations! *grabs books* *runs away*

  6. The Passage was really intense! I need to go back and finish it though, it was a bit long for me. :)

  7. Thank you! And I also love visiting other worlds in my spare time. *grin*

  8. Haha, why am I not surprised that you have "twisted" responses in your worldbuilding? Hmmm... ;-)


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