Books that have a strong sense of place really help me sink right in. It makes the story feel solid and tangible.— Ana (@anacoqui) April 9, 2015
Last week I was reading two very different kinds of romance novels (Joanna Wylde’s Silver Bastard and Laura Florand’s upcoming All for You). Although they are both contemporaries on the surface, you can’t pick two more different types of stories and settings yet I felt fully engaged and immersed both these books in no small part because of the way the authors described and rooted the action in their locations in macro and micro ways.
The novels didn't use their cities/towns as interchangeable backdrop or wallpaper but instead took the time to develop a distinctive location for the reader. Locations were consistently described, attention was paid to the way people experience and interact differently with the landscape when walking versus when they are driving. While I couldn't have drawn you a map based on the descriptions I had a sense that the writers could have.
I grew up reading Fantasy, Sci-fi & Mystery and I still have weakness for novels with maps. I love books that take the time to develop a setting so it feels like it had depth and solidity. I don’t care if we are talking about books set in steam-punk China or Victorian England, a post-apocalyptic future or planet far far away, small-town or urban contemporary, world building is important to me. I think one of the reasons books by Jeannie Lin, Courtney Milan, K.J. Charles, Kit Rocha, Shannon Stacey & Julie James work so well for me is that they do excellent world building.
Reading is an act of trust. As a reader I routinely gift authors with my goodwill and enter their books with a willing suspension of disbelief. When I do that I trust the author to take me someplace amazing, some place worth going. There are lots of ways to screw that up. Everyone has different things that trigger disbelief and kick them out of story. For me repetitive vocabulary, vague geography & continuity mistakes are some of the more common ones.
How important is place and world building to you? What are your essentials? I've listed a few authors I think do a consistently good job, any authors you feel do this particularly well? Do you have higher expectations from some kinds of books than you do of others?