I was out with some of the guys from my speculative fiction writing group the other night (and let me tell you how lovely it is to belong to a group where everyone writes science fiction and fantasy, though the members are mostly male and it skews toward scifi) and I overheard a conversation between two of the members about how much of a pain it is to have to create new worlds.
I was busy editing, so I didn’t say anything at the time, but now I say: So?
Yes, it’s hard to create a new world from scratch. To have to create cultures, species, animals, religions, gods, technology, magic. To create languages and mythology. To strike a balancing act between making your world believable and making it accessible to your readers.
Here’s the thing, though–any story, whether it’s set on a planet around a distant star or just down the street, needs world-building. Even if you’re working with the real world, you still need to choose settings, decide where buildings are in relation to each other, set up utilities for your characters, choose their cultures and beliefs, etc.
There is the added benefit that you can call a chair a chair because everyone knows what a chair is, but you also run the risk of getting things–that your readers know–wrong, which will distract them from the story.
Besides, it’s fun to create new worlds. I love it. I write pretty evenly in high and urban fantasy, and there’s a special spot in my heart for the world-building necessary for the high fantasy. The landscapes, the layout of the land, new cultures and how they relate to each other. And, of course, the mythology. To be able to create a cultural and mythical background to explain why a culture functions they way it does–I live for that.
Besides, isn’t part of the point of writing or reading speculative fiction exploring strange new worlds and new civilizations?