Sorry about the formatting–I actually did this as a thread on Twitter, and then sort of liked it, so I put it here so I could look it up if I needed it. You’re welcome to it.
I’m going to make an observation here about world building when you’re writing urban fantasy. Not every detail about the world needs to be dropped immediately, no matter how much people may insist you do just that.
Think about it like Indiana Jones and snakes. We know in thefirst ten minutes of the first film that Indiana Jones doesn’t like snakes. We know it will come back to bite us in the ass–more than once. But it takes us two whole movies (even if none of us watch the super racist second one) before we realize WHY Indiana doesn’t like snakes.
World building in an alternative universe NEEDS to be like that sometimes. It NEEDS to be a little mysterious. There NEED to be little nagging questions, because we are VISITORS TO ANOTHER WORLD.
If aliens showed up on our doorstep they wouldn’t know about coffee. They’d either A. Ask us questions the first time they saw us drink it or B. Focus on something else, like why law enforcement was beating up on other humans or why we hadn’t taken steps to get rid of the life threatening virus in the air. Which one of these things is more important to the story? Coffee would get put on the back burner, and it could be used for comic effect, or a character moment or an illustration of the balance between self-preservation and self-destruction in humans–whatever. But coffee doesn’t need to be explained RIGHT THE FUCK NOW.
Good world building is layered into the story–if it’s mentioned eventually it will be addressed eventually. If it’s not, maybe there’s a logical explanation layered in with the rules of the world. But it’s not all dumped in at the beginning, and if explaining coffee at the start interrupts the narrative flow, then leave it.
Sort of like Anne McCaffrey did with klah in the Dragonriders and Dragonsingers of Pern–eventually, she wrote a book that explained klah. Until then, we all figured out it was coffee. Because she knew readers were smart like that. So trust your world building. Trust your layering. Know that a question answered later is better than an infodump that loses attention RIGHT NOW. World building is a tricky business–if you don’t have faith in your readers sense of wonder, you’ve destroyed your prose
before you’ve begun.
Or at least that’s how I see it.