When I started writing Saving the Land I had no idea what I was doing. I had read about World-building, but I thought that since my story was set in our contemporary world I didn't have to worry about it - only Fantasy and Science Fiction writers have to build new worlds, right? Almost immediately I learned that I was wrong.
The settings for Saving the Land are located on and between two East Texas ranches, the Double J Ranch and the Little River Ranch. They are in contemporary East Texas near a little town named Faith.
East Texas is real. You can research it on the Internet. But the little town of Faith and the two ranches are not. I created them specifically for Saving the Land. To bring them to life, I had to decide how big they were, how many buildings were on them, what type of buildings they were, when they built the buildings, who's family owned the ranches and when, etc., etc.
When we write, we are literally drawing pictures with words. So, it's not enough to know that there are three buildings on the Double J Ranch: the main ranch house, the barn, and the Foreman's Cottage. I must also know what they look like, how many rooms are in them, how they are laid out, which direction do they face. I collected pictures of old houses. I took field trips and wandered through houses built around the same time. Those ranches were so real to me, I could wander them in my thoughts. But that wasn't enough.
I finally drew a map. Drawing the map and calculating distances between the ranches, the buildings, and the scene settings in the story helped me to understand many aspects of my story that I hadn't bothered to worry about before. Among other things, I realized that I needed to consider how far a quarter horse could realistically gallop without rest since my main character, Jay Johnson, races to the climax of the story on her horse.
In addition to the physical settings, I had to figure out how the world worked. Jay has unique abilities. I had to determine how her abilities worked and what their limitations were. In addition, I needed to know how those abilities influenced the way she interacted with the other characters and the world around her.
World-building is vitally important. Not only for the author as they build their story and decide what is realistic and what isn't, but also for the reader. World building done well can allow an author to transport a reader into that fictional environment so deeply that they long to visit even after the book is finished.