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World Building Is Ubiquitous

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, April 8, 2017
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image from The Art of Veiling, by yours truly

There have been posts before (I think) about how to go about creating a world, especially when it comes to fantasy settings. You’re supposed, if you want to do it right, to build everything that makes up the world in general: geography, politics, geopolitics, history, climate, seasons, the lot! The more consistent you are with it, following the rules that real history, real geography vs. climate vs. economies, real climate does, the more your world will feel real and lived in.

That’s it in a nutshell really; but there is something else that I don’t really come across often when discussion world creation and world building- what do you do when it’s not fantasy?

And goodness, do you have to go the whole nine yards EVERY time!?

The truth is that as a creator, especially when it comes to comics and the visual arts, it doesn’t matter whether the world your story is taking place is Middle Earth, Planet X-987 or 1870s Carolina; you are still the one that is going to build it.

You are still the one that is going to have to know the history, know the politics, know the details of what people wear and what people use for transport, how they speak and how they deal with basic social elements. You are still the one that is going to have to be the agent of immersion into this world for your audience.

So in the end it doesn’t matter whether the world is fantasy or not: the work going into making OR representing it is the same- even in the world, time and place we ourselves have been raised and live in, because there’s simply a lot that we don’t know beyond our own social microsystem.

The more you’re in control, knowing your comic’s world and setting deeply, the better this will come out in your story and the experience you provide for the audience, even if the audience is never told and never knows the extent of your painstaking research (hint: never include diatribes on sewage systems).

So when can you cut corners on this monster?

I believe it really depends on what type/genre of comic it is you’re making. If it’s a slice-of-life and/or gag comic, if it’s autobiographical or if it is surreal or dreamlike or fairy-tale-ish, chances are that you can get away without doing much world-building in the sense of researching and determining your comic world’s details: you already know most of what there is to know to be able to deliver the material in its setting and make it feel right, comfortable.

If, however, it is a graphic novel with a long narrative, concrete and specific dimensions and world setting that is supposed to be able to support intricate plot lines and plot twists, then chances are you will need to research at least a few of the elements of the world.

Just consider the needs of the narrative and creative work on the world-building between, say, Garfield and Elfquest or Sandman or Persepolis.

The more that world is supposed to come close to feel epic, realistic or believable, the more you need to have done your homework.

And personally, I think it’s part of the fascinating joy of being a creator.
But more on that next time.

comment

anonymous?

thunderdavid at 2:11PM, April 11, 2017

This something i've been thing about on &off.I need make sure the locations of the match the character living there

SLK8ne at 8:07PM, April 10, 2017

What I mean by that is that is if there are elves in the world, but, none of them show up in the story, and their presence doesn't directly effect the story, they're irrelevant. So, don't overthink it. Just think it enough to make it work. That's the balance.

SLK8ne at 7:56PM, April 10, 2017

Some things to keep in mind are that you don't have to have every detail worked out in advance. Most of the comic universes out there grew and changed over time. The DC universe of today is a far cry from the early DC universe. But, the bones were there. So I'd say you have to have the basics of how the universe works down, the bones if you will. Then you can flesh it out as you go alone. Remember, the only part of the world the reader will see is what you show them. What is going on across the world (unless it directly impinges on the story) is irrelevant.

SLK8ne at 7:09PM, April 10, 2017

Well said. Nothing will ruin a story like having a world that doesn't follow its own logic. People will dislike it without even knowing why.

meemjar at 1:56AM, April 9, 2017

For my role-playing world. I didn't want to either be dependent on a pre-created world nor did I want to have the monumental task of building a whole new world. So I took a map of Europe and created a fractured alternate reality history/world. In this world, set in the early middle ages the Roman Empire did not completely collapse but held onto the Mediterranean while competing with the north-western medieval feudal kingdoms and the Mongols and Arabs to the east and Vikings to the north. Adding to this were the races of fantasy and mythology co-exist. So the Romans had Centaur cavalry while the feudal kingdoms had Elf allies and the Mongols had Orc mercenaries and so on. By walking a middle ground I made a quickly made world map.

usedbooks at 6:06PM, April 8, 2017

I tried coming up with a unique map of the city in Used Books, but ultimately, if I need an address or an orientation, I base locations directly upon locations of things in my old college town. The address for the bookstore is the address of the house I used to rent with my friends. (I do draw specific blueprints and layouts of story arc settings, though. I've even built some of them in Sims 3.)

bravo1102 at 7:22AM, April 8, 2017

Well there is doing everything before hand or doing just enough research and then while writing having to run to Google to do hours of on the spot searching for some detail. That brings your writing to a sudden halt and that can show in your work. It can even lead to a sudden attack of writer's block. It's easier just to have it all done ahead of time and pick up the necessary bits off of notes already prepared. And then in a fantasy world there is creating the map and filling it full of names and only filling in details when the characters get there (if ever) as opposed to doing a complete gazette of everything so characters can refer to it in passing the way real people often have.

KimLuster at 6:01AM, April 8, 2017

Great article!! You know when a rich world is implanting in your brain when you have a hard time thinking about that world without using its unique vocabulary(the Dune series is like that for me: Muad'Dib, Bene Gesserit... Harry Potter too: Muggles, Quidditch...)

ozoneocean at 5:53AM, April 8, 2017

For Pinky TA I have a good working knowledge of the world it takes place in. But not really enough I think. I've been a little lazy and it shows I believe. But it's hard work when your story spans across multiple locations.


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