Firstly, when I say worldbuiling, I do not mean it just in the creating worlds/societies/magic systems/technology way that it is often taken to mean. Work set in contemporary societies also requires world building – often via the characters. If you’re writing a modern day romance, then the world and time is already a given, but you characters, their pasts, and how they deal with the world isn’t.
But that fits more into the character building side of things. I, personally as a alternative fiction writer (which is what I’m turning out to be) want to talk about the more traditional forms of world building.
Depending on what you plan to write, you are going to approach worldbuilding in a different way. But regardless of whether you are writing urban fantasy or hard science fiction, there are a few points that I personally think should always be considered when building a world:
When I say rules, I don’t mean that you should limit yourself. If you wish to get rid of the laws of physics, fine. If you wish to have faster than light travel and not explain how, then that too is okay. But in my honest opinion having a world without rules means there is no story to be had in that world. Your main character can come up against any challenge and defeat it way too easily. They could wipe out the antagonist with their mind, if they wished. The antagonist could wipe them out with his mind. Actually, in all likely hood, such a world never would have developed sentient society. Any life would have wiped each other out before they evolved past the caveman stage.
I also think that you must have rules and limitations in your world in order to promote conflict. Without some sort of conflict, there is no story. How many rules you have, and how easy it is for you MCs to get what they want and need is up to you and the genre you’re writing in.
Which leads me to another point about developing rules in your world. consistancy. Make what can and can’t be done consistant. Please. Otherwise things will start to feel incredible Deus ex Machina-ish.
Consequences must (IMHO anyway) also exist in order for the story to be interesting. If you have a character that can stop time, give them a consequence for using that power. Or they’re going to use it all the time and things will be way to easy for them. Have it wear them down. Have evil spirits show up and attack them whenever they use it.
Life is not supposed to be easy for your characters. Make it hard by building consistant rules into your world, and giving your world consequences. whether it be a world of magic, science fiction or contemporary.