Above all, worldbuilding is not technically necessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism.
M. John Harrison on worldbuilding.
I’ve said this before, both here and on con panels, so it’s always nice to see it reiterated years earlier by other people.
For the record, I can always tell “worldbuilt” fiction, since its “Big Idea” is always something mechanical or setting-based, with characters designed to support that rather than the other way around. It’s not a “wrong” way to write a book—there’s no “wrong” way to write a book—but most of the outcomes don’t work for me that well. It’s also not the way I write, which is always driven by character concepts: “What if Loki survived Ragnarok and was also Steve Jobs?”, “What if a tax accountant turned into a tentacle monster and went on a Hero’s Journey?”, “What if a demon performed odd jobs in exchange for mortal souls… IN SPACE!!!! and also had to steal an angel?”, and so on. The “worldbuilding” then becomes a way to first construct, then deconstruct, then reconstruct those characters; the plot becomes the character development between pages 1 and 300.
Because I tend to write what I like to read, this is also the core of my big problems with “worldbuilt” fiction: its characters tend not to change very much, even if the world around them does…