How important is world building for you?
Is it more or less important than characters, plot, or something else?
I recently finished Divergent by Veronica Roth and The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken. If you saw my review on Divergent yesterday then you know I didn't love the book. I thought the characters were great and the plot was good, but I couldn't get my mind wrapped around this idea of factions. It didn't make sense to me, and a result of this was that I couldn't get completely lost in this book. I have also read The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken recently (my review should be out next week). This book also had some world building problems, but unlike Divergent, I could believe that teenagers were getting special powers and that they were being sent away to labor camps in order to protect society. Although Divergent's Tris might have been written better than The Darkest Minds' Ruby, I got lost in Ruby's tale. I fell for her story hook, line, and sinker, while I just felt annoyed with Tris (even when she was just acting like a typical teenager).
I must admit that my polar opposite feelings about these two books shocked me. As a kid, I read a lot of generic fantasy stories. There was nothing special about most of these books except that there was magic, princes, princesses, and dragons (back in my day there wasn't the huge number of YA books, I had to choose between books that were a bit too young for me and books that were a bit too old for me). Okay, I did love the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede but mostly everything else was pretty bland. I enjoyed reading these books because the characters were fun and they went on adventures. The authors typically didn't spend too much time discussing their worlds, because the worlds were fairy tale generic. This brings me back to my original surprise of not liking Divergent because I didn't like the world even though the action was pretty awesome. When did world building become so important to me? Seriously, this has been happening a lot recently. A few months ago, I read The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson. Although I didn't love the book, I thought that the world building was awesome. The magic system involves chalk and geometry. I loved the world building so much that I know that I am going to read the next book in the series. No question.
I should point out that I am not a total servant to world building. I read Ringworld by Larry Niven this year, and it was not my favorite book. The world building is very carefully crafted; however, the characters are not great. My husband who has read more Niven than I have says that when Niven co-writes books they are quite good but Niven's world are great and his co-authors focus on the characters. This is all to say that I don't read books just for world building, but I think it is one of my top priorities in a book.
So what do you think? How important is world building for you? Are characters, plot, or something else more important? I focused on science fiction and fantasy books, but I would love to hear about your opinions regarding world building in contemporary fiction too!