This is a tricky one for any writer. You have to worldbuild so you know what you’re writing. A lot of writers I’ve spoken with, tell me about pages and pages of stuff they’ve written that is never meant to see the light of day. All of it, every bit, is detail they need in order to write the story. But putting all of it on the page for the reader would result in a special kind of overload.
I always struggle with how much to reveal, to put in the story, and where to hold back and keep the details in my back pocket. I’ve gotten mixed reviews on how well I do this. When I feel like I’m doing way too much and infodumping the reader, some have said, “no, no, I need more!” and other’s have said, “Meh. Too much!” Finding that balance is the challenge.
As an example, I have a line in Samantha Kane: Into the Fire that caused someone to write a few paragraphs worth of thoughts and feelings on the ‘excellent worldbuilding’. One line. Here it is:
A wayward prince, son of a broken crown now carrying a broken sword.
The reader loved this line immensely. Said it called to mind so many possibilities and was the most interesting part of the chapter. Especially when I didn’t elaborate or expand upon it (in that book).
A similar reaction came from this line, which is in my epic fantasy novel:
He saw many things within the steam rising up; a city in the trees, a burning building, a severed hand, a man with no future, a mask of steel, a broken crown, a mewling baby, a wolf walking like a man and feasting upon the blood of the living.
This, I am told, had a reader’s mind swirling. They saw whole other stories forming in their mind and wanted to read those stories.
But do these two lines qualify as worldbuilding?
Obviously, the readers felt so. Does worldbuilding have to be these massive, sprawling descriptions? Or can it be a single line of prose or dialogue?
I think the answer is ‘yes’.