Does it matter, say, that someone writes a town that could never actually economically last?
It depends on the work. If the story involves the world (say the story's got a political edge to it) then an economically plausible town would really help. Otherwise, if the town's just a backdrop, then it doesn't really matter that much.
Does it matter, say, that every town has an inn, even though it makes no logical sense?
There's probably at least one inn in just about every town in America. It'd be weird if there was separate lodging in like every little village and hamlet in a rather low-tech world, though.
Is a book still just as good, even if the superficial details are all that's really touched upon in a world, and even then, don't always make sense?
Yes it is! I don't see why this question even needs to be asked. The setting doesn't have to be important for every single story.
Or is it a talent that must be honed, just as character and plot building must be honed?
If you're going to write about elaborate worlds, then you're going to have to hone that talent. If you're going to write elaborate plots, you're going to have to hone that talent, and so on. It depends on what you're focusing on.
What is the absolute minimum world building one can get away with?
Well, you need a place for your story to take place in, for starters, and then depending on how long your story is, you'll need just a touch of local color to make that setting come alive a little, so just some description when it's appropriate to elaborate on the surroundings of the characters. That, I feel, is the bare minimum.
When does it go from world building, to sheer obsessiveness / a vanity project?
When your name is JRR Tolkien.
Okay, just kidding—when world-building gets in the way of your personal life and it's all you ever think about.
edited 28th Sep '11 12:49:46 AM by annebeeche
Banned entirely for telling FE that he was being rude and not contributing to the discussion.
I shall watch down from the goon heavens.