World building as an author

Spent most of this afternoon talking world building with a friend and fellow writer. It started as a discussion about how cities themselves are often central characters of urban fantasy and sort of spun out from there. My friend (J from here on out) has read more extensively in the Urban fantasy genre and had a lot to say re: examples in pubished fiction (and also managed to add about half a dozen new books to my “To Read” list) and it was a little humbling.
Our discussion really brought to light that world building is probably my biggest weakness as a writer. I’ve spent a lot of time writing in other people’s playgrounds, and my own personal tastes tend to find world building exposition dumps extremely boring, so I tend to avoid them in my stories. This can be good and bad, on the one had I dont tend to have long dragging places full of exposition, on the other hand it makes me wonder if I’m cheating my readers out of a fully realized experience.
I’m working on a list of things I want to go back and look at before I start the first re-write of Mages , so far that list looks something like this
  • Day trip to Seattle to physically scout the main locations mentioned in the book
  • map out werewolf pack hierarchies and territories in the city
  • finalize a mental headcanon about how magic works for mages vs witches vs gypsies and hammer out an internal logic
  • map out headcanon for how magic being public knowledge has influenced the development of the 20/21st centuries
It’s a little disheartening to see all the places the book needs to be worked on but at the same time I feel that if I take my own shortcomings seriously and work on making them less of shortcomings, I might actually come out of second draft with (overall) a much stronger story.
There’s that old saying, “Write what you know” and I tend not to buy into it much but I think there’s something to the idea “write what you like”. For me, it’s all about characters and their relationships, preferably driven by a good well thought out plot. When I approach a new story, I start with the characters. It makes sense that world building and plot are going to take some extra specific attention for me to get them right.
What attracts you to a story? Characters? Setting? Plot? The mystery?
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