Worldbuilding sounds like an act of hubris. To design a new reality for a piece of fiction suggests a necessary omniscience about people, at the very least. Depending on how descriptive you get you might need to know everything about society and the history of civilization, fashion, technology, maybe even evolution and cosmology. What it suggests is of course totally ridiculous. Writers are clever, but they are no more deific in their comprehensive world knowledge than a street magician is sending coins into adjacent quantum realities before bringing them back from behind little girls’ earlobes.
But the art of misdirection is an apt comparison. The world you are immersed in by reading a 400 page novel, a 2 hour movie, a 120 page comic, is really a dangling string of tiny pearls that dazzles you and makes you forget where you are. They are the nose of a Rembrandt. Most of the creation is made by you in the periphery of your imagination.
A good world is not overly crafted, or it quickly loses its illusion. To achieve the phenomenon of realism you have to let it unfurl. Complexity arises in nature of its own accord. A writer has to let the tableau become infested with entropy, plotting out points of entry and letting reactive elements eat their way through, creating a maze. Its more discovery than creation in the end.
As a budding artist, it is rather seductive to just generate characters. They are without a doubt the building blocks of a world, but its important to learn that characters, if they are going to be in a story, in a world, have to be more than their snarky-sexy posturing and fashion. That devil may care sense of humor can’t sail its skiff across the sea of tropes for long without a convincing backstory. Enough lines criss crossing from origin points become a substantive grid of possible motivations and outcomes. The world makes us what we are, and the same goes for characters.
Some of the characters that are still living in my writing today admittedly started as emulation, parody almost. The Mustard Man, a principle in Hobo City, was first an AOL Fantasy RPG chatroom screenname in 1995 loosely based on some blend between Sgt. Pepper from the Beatles Yellow Submarine and Gandalf. The character evolved into various iterations as I moved through different art media as an adult, using performance art, comics and writing to flesh out a world of nonsensical parts harvested from many exploratory sessions, stewed together into something that does make sense, where the dots all connect. A video art experiment on a rooftop where I battled the camera as two different alter egos to later splice together, a performance in Poland where I planted a human/plant hybrid seed in the ground, a music video where neighbors played as hobos and attacked me and pulled off my horn, all kinds of expressive moments in my artistic trajectory have become embedded in the mesh. People I’ve met, collaborated with, loved or been irked by have inspired characters that have become as real to me as they were. They come to need eachother. They take to their motivations like a flaming lighter being tossed onto a splashy trail of gasoline.