I found about Write Worlds Your Readers Won’t Forget via the required reading list for two different Writing The Other classes, and wish I’d read them sooner. Stant Litore’s books are fairly short and laser-focused on providing the most value to emerging writers in the fewest words. The two most valuable sections of the book to me were the first, on three specific features that make a fictional world memorable, and the last, on how to convey your worldbuilding to readers (no surprise: it’s not via infodump).
The book opens with a claim that a shortcut to making a world memorable are to define a unique set of physical circumstances (such as the all-desert world of Arrakis in Dune), a unique creature or type of creature (such as the sandworms), and a unique cultural element, typically responding to those things (such as the Fremen focus on preserving moisture and co-existing with the sandworms). He has other examples, but even that one was enough to inspire some creative thinking about my WIP.
Conveying the world is a matter of figuring out the minimum a reader needs to know at each point in the story, and introducing the world-building elements “just in time” for them to understand whatever is going on in the story at that point. I’ve read this advice in several other places. Litore goes beyond this to discuss the “threshold text” that, like the Star Trek captain’s logs, brings the reader into the story.
There are several possible types of in-world guide, characters who invite the reader over that threshold. The Innocent is as unknowing as the reader, who learns about the world at the same time as the character. The Embedded is the opposite: someone who knows a great deal, and conveys much through action, behaviour, and details they take for granted. The Immigrant combines the two, learning about the new world but also trying to set down roots, like Cordelia Naismith in the Vorkosigan Saga. The Disinherited underdog will notice many details a privileged character wouldn’t.
The largest chunk in the middle was about defining interesting cultures, and all the different aspects to consider: homes, religion, transportation, ruins and relics of the past, technology and magic, rites of passage, privilege, law versus justice, and more. Far more than a checklist, it goes into why these details are important, and how they affect characters and plot.
At the moment I consider this the single most enlightening and useful book on worldbuilding I have ever read.