Writers as minor gods? Possibly, maybe, maybe not.
“Why one writes is a question I can answer easily, having so often asked it of myself. I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me — the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That, I believe, is the reason for every work of art.” – Anaïs Nin
“And so I create a world in which I can live through stories and pictures of spirited landscapes steeped in Mystery, music, and quiet acts of women’s magic. I create myself every day here in the hills amid old stone walls and buttercup fields, out of scraps of paper and fragments of verse and morning coffee and dreams underfoot and books and bees and brambles and briar roses and a black dog at my side.” – Terri Windling
When writers write, they create worlds. Isn’t that a task left to the gods?
Yet, the term “worldbuilding” is often applied to writers, especially those who write fantasy and science fiction.
When James Cameron created Avatar, he was worldbuilding. By 2154, when the story is set, humans have done what conservationists have been worried about: screwed up the Earth. Hence, the attraction of a moon named Pandora–a name that to any sensible person would be somewhat of an omen.
What we saw in the movie was worldbuilding.
If you’re a fan of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series and novels, you see another kind of worldbuilding. Yet this is a world not of the future like Avatar, but one inspired by the Wars of the Roses in the 1400s. Most of the characters in these books want to be king, want to support somebody else who wants to be king, or prefer to hide from everyone who has anything to do with one king or another.
While worldbuilding is often equated with epics of science fiction and fantasy, it applies to everything we write, including novels and stories set on the planet we know. When Grace Metalious wrote Peyton Place in 1956 she created a new place that was unique even though it was said to be a composite of five New Hampshire towns. We can say the same for every country, town, street and region in every book we read whether the book is mainstream fiction of a techno-thriller.
“Worldbuilding,” writes Charlie Jane Anders in the 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding, “is an essential part of any work of fiction. But especially for science fiction or fantasy, it’s the lifeblood of storytelling. But when worldbuilding fails, it can wreck your whole story, and leave your characters feeling pointless.”
From the perspective of readers, the success of an author’s minor-god-like creation comes from its consistency and completeness and seeming reality. Things (usually) need to make sense there or have a very good explanation for why they don’t.
This is important whether an author is bringing to life a real place out of the real world or creating an imaginary place in a probable future.
The reality of places that aren’t real draws us into the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Matrix and the Harry Potter books and movies. We may leave these places thinking of the characters and the action, but the worlds where all that happened were critical to the success of these stories.
We all create worlds in our dreams, daydreams and active imaginations. God like? Possibly, maybe, maybe not. Writers take the creative process a step further. They write stuff down.
Some say our very dreams create the world. I suspect that might be true, though I have no sure proof of it. But writers do create the worlds in their books whether they write realism or magical realism. It comes with the job.