“This tremendous world I have inside of me. How to free myself, and this world, without tearing myself to pieces. And rather tear myself to a thousand pieces than be buried with this world within me.”
― Franz Kafka
Questions, questions, questions-I have so many for you and that little world growing inside of you. If you’re ready, I’ll begin.
Let’s talk about that world. You know, the place you throw your characters into, to experience love, pain, joy, despair? Ya, that place.
Start with a clean slate: what does it look like? Is it realistic, purely fantasy, or a good mix of both? Are there animals similar to the ones we have here, or are there some crazy, bloodthirsty badger-like creatures with glowing yellow eyes? Is the land desolate and barren, or is it pockmarked with towering pines and waterfalls?
Now, before you get too overwhelmed, remember to focus on where you’re starting your story rather than “painting” the entire world. Unless, of course, you want the whole board set before your players can set foot on black or white. It’s really up to you; you are the creator, after all.
If you go for a realistic world (aka: based on our planet or possibly an alternate universe), make sure you get your shiz straight. Do your research; know the layout of the land, so to speak, and keep things historically accurate if you decide to time-jump.
Next, you need to keep that picture in your head, whether it’s on land, or sea, or volcano, and build some settlements. Are tools rudimentary or even barbaric? Is civilization growing within a technologically advanced space?
If you haven’t already, I would suggest that you get out a trusty little notebook and a pen/pencil. Write down what you have so far. Go on, I’ll wait.
Next up, what are the rules? Is there magic? Are people (or aliens) nearly immortal due to advancements in healthcare? I'm not doing all the work-ask your own questions as well. These rules are critical in establishing a good relationship between your future readers and the stories you are/will be writing. Not to say that the aforementioned steps are not important, but your readers need something to grasp onto, to stand on as a foundation of trust. If, in the end of Harry Potter, Harry turned into a tiny bubble and floated up Voldemort's nonexistent nostril, tickled his brain and caused an aneurysm, wouldn’t you, as the reader, feel cheated? YES. The answer is yes.
As the writer you have the ability to create a whole new world, (now that song will be stuck in your head, you’re welcome), and the rules you create for that world will help stabilize your readers once they land there. They will hold onto these rules as a lifeline, knowing that they can move forward and be surprised when you want them to be surprised, and be sad when you want them to be sad. Take the CW show, Supernatural, for example. Don’t get me wrong: I love, love, LOVE this show. But, *spoiler* how many times do Sam or Dean need to die before you aren’t afraid for them anymore? Before you realize this isn’t a rule to trust? Before you shake your fists at the screen and yell at Castiel for not finding some way to freakin’ save Charlie after saving Sam and Dean a billion times!
Hopefully these examples clarified that point for you. If not, feel free to ask questions in the comments!
We’re getting to the juicy part. The medium rare, prime-cut, beautiful steaming steak, juicy. Yes, that juicy. And if you’re vegetarian, we can say it’s the sweet juicy center of a salad bowl. Yum…
I never enjoyed history classes, but being able to create your own history is an entirely different matter. To know where your story and the world is going, you need to know where it has been. What has happened in your world? Has it been ravaged by disease, nuclear war, pummelled by a sinister squad of sword-wielding space walruses? Not only does this help make your world feel real, but it helps you understand where your world is now and where it is going.
Get your head out of the past and look around. Come to the here and now of your world; sit on an imaginary bench, in an imaginary park, in your imaginary world. After everything your world has been through, what is it like now? Is it over-populated? Are the people wary of space travel? Do people still believe that the world is flat?
What makes a story exciting is when something in the world starts to change-when someone or something triggers a critical event, or the beginning of a quest. Bilbo would have never left the Shire if it weren’t for a crusty, calculating old wizard showing up at his door. As the writer, you decide what triggers the beginning of your story. Better yet, you decide where the story will go from there. But keep in mind that the world you build will be there every step of the way-or more accurately, under every step of the way (get it? Because you walk on the world, so it’s under you, and you step...step on it...um...anyways…)
So by now you should know what your world looks like, what/who inhabits it, where it has been, and where it is now. It can be overwhelming, and might cause a panic attack (or two). But remember that you are in control. You are the creator of this world, this universe, and you decide who lives and who dies. You set the storms on the seas, you build the towers in the skies, you lay waste to a land or people you no longer need. Harsh? Get over it. You’re a writer.
Now take your trusty, marked-up notebook, and start to build. We all have a world inside of us, waiting to come out. And, to end on a cheesy note: I implore you to set it free.