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So You Want To / Build Your Own Fictional World

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World Building is the process in which an author adds the finer details to his or her setting. Also check out Be Original and The Trope History of the Universe.

Choices, Choices

Necessary tropes

Pitfalls

  • It's Been Done. You need to brainstorm long and hard to make your setting truly unique. Or just cherry-pick bits from other works that you like, toss them in the metaphorical pot, and see what boils up. But be sure to boil long and hard so it doesn't look messily ripped off and stuck on with gore.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!. If you want to (for example) make a reimagining of your favorite treasure hunt-story, but as a political satire, or it happens in an urban setting, really put effort in to it. Most of the popular *some character but in SPACE!* type of stories feel worthless, because the storytellers haven`t put much thought in to how the story would change, if their Aquaman really WOULD go to space. How would they react? To underthink it, is the pitfall, not using the said trope.
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The Random Events Plot and How To Avoid It

In an episode of This Dumb Industry, Shamus Young quotes Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who decry the idea that scenes and plot points should be connected by the phrase "And then [X]." Instead, they claim, the links should be, "And therefore [X]" or "However, [X]" — the things that happen next are consequences or reactions to the things that happened before. Young describes this consequence-based narrative as "Domino worldbuilding" and points out how it adds verisimilitude to the fiction. It's also very accurate to Real Life, where most actions are (in fact) consequences or reactions to the things that happened before — to the point that certain events become Foregone Conclusions. (For instance, contemporary Americans saw the American Civil War coming 75 years before it started.)

A simple example comes from The Wheel of Time. It stars a Destructive Savior, one who is going to go Ax-Crazy and ruin everything Because Destiny Says So. How could such circumstances even arise? Well, via worldbuilding. Our Mages Are Different: they "channel" a force called the One Power, which is divided into male and female halves. The series is big on the Mars-and-Venus Gender Contrast. In fact, it dominated the last repetition of the Eternal Recurrence inherent in the Wheel of Time: the male mages couldn't agree with the female mages on how to defeat the Big Bad. Eventually, the men chose a solution and went alone. This exposed them to an insidious counterattack by the Big Bad, who tainted the male half of the Source so that all male channelers would, forevermore, go Ax-Crazy and ruin everything. This resulted in a massive World Sundering that capped off the Second Age and gives rise to the Medieval Stasis the actual {[Main Character}}s find themselves in some three thousand years later. It creates a World Half Empty where the best one can hope for is that The Chosen One saves the world before they destroy it... and it all makes perfect sense because it all arises logically from the rules of the setting.

This kind of worldbuilding takes a lot more skull sweat, but it comes with fewer Plot Holes — and is, to a limited extent, immune to them, because a reader who is thinking about the cool thing you thought of, may not be sparing much attention for the things you didn't think of.

Potential Subversions

Writers Lounge

Suggested Themes, Plots, and Aesops

Too many, so I'll just toss you the Genres index.

Departments

Costume Department

  • Armor and tunics/leggingsnote /skirts work great for almost any setting. You just need to adapt them to fit the setting. Fantasy gets plate or chainmail armor, Sci-fi gets Powered Armor.
  • Those technologies we mentioned? Can any of it be implanted into a character?

Casting Department

  • Whatever classic races you want to include, and any new ones you dream up.

Stunt Department

  • A heroic deed here and there (up to and including wars) in the history to keep it interesting.
  • And scandals, humorous or serious, to add drama or humor.

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