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When good world building doesn't matter

ozoneocean at 12:00AM, Oct. 27, 2018
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I've just started watching the first series of the sitcom “A Good Place”. The premise: Set in “heaven”, exclusively the best of the best people are sent there, but “Eleanor” is sent by mistake. She's not a nice person.
So far so good. Not a particularly original idea but it's good fodder for a fantasy based sitcom. However, what I noticed very quickly was how shoddy and loose the writers had been with the world building. The conception of “heaven” or the “Good Place” is poor and ill-thought out: think about it for more than 5 minutes and it begins to crumble, the amount of belief suspension required to sustain it is akin to a major engineering project!
But I still enjoy it immensely anyway and have no problem sticking with it.

Good world building isn't always needed
The actors and their performances are very good, production values high, character interaction, relationships and developments are interesting, and the comedy situations are funny. A lot of effort has been put into the show to make it sleek and well produced. But most importantly the setting is basically the “real world” with fantasy rules to it. These factors work together to off-set the the flaws in the premise!

There's nothing new here, this is a common theme with fantasy based stories: I Dream of Genie, The Adams Family, Fantasy Island, Bewitched, Sabrina the Teenage witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dead like Me etc. None have a premise that holds up to scrutiny, but unlike SciFi with terrible world building (e.g. Avatar), the fact that all these stories take place in something like a “real world” setting means that most of the work has already been done. We're prepared to accept a certain level of magic as long as we can recognise and understand most of the other elements and things seem to work as we expect them to.
Having engaging characters, interesting stories, good looking stars, and good production values puts them over the top!

I was thinking of this in relation to my own comic, Pinky TA. Pinky TA isn't fantasy based but it IS set in an alternative version of the real world. There are various… illogical elements to it. I've often worried that I should try and have a detailed structure to the world of Pinky TA to make sure everything makes sense and has a reason for being. I really have tried at times, but the truth is my world building is rather loose and cavalier. yet readers have never had any issue with that aspect.
Now I feel I finally understand why. ^_^

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anonymous?

PaulEberhardt at 12:01PM, Oct. 30, 2018

Romance is an interesting example, here. Outwardly, it's just as escapist as the remotest, frilliest pink-maned-unicorn fantasy la-la land, but world building doesn't seem to be an issue at all. If my theory below holds true, that'd be because people watch it mainly to see roughly the same kind of people doing roughly the same kind of things in roughly the same plot sequence. Kind of scary, that thought...

PaulEberhardt at 11:41AM, Oct. 30, 2018

When I watch TV on some days, I get the impression that I'm switching sewers, not channels, because of ever rising crap levels. ;) Nevertheless, world building really IS overrated, sometimes. It'd just get in the way when you just want to have a good bit of fun, as with the Addams Family, or I Dream of Jeannie, or The Flintstones, or some new-fangled ones that are on the tip of my tongue. Everything off-key in their world building just adds to the general sense of playfulness I like them most for. I allow for inconsistencies in my own comic for pretty much the same reason; for instance I hardly ever lose sleep over changing the shape, appearance and location of a room in the house in which much of my comic is set, if it makes the scene I have in mind work out better. This kind of thing is however more of a no-no for fantasy and sci-fi (or horror to some extent), because their worlds often are the central thing there, one of the parts people read it for. Can't mess that up, can you?

bravo1102 at 8:36AM, Oct. 29, 2018

Nothing proves the 85% rule of crap more than series television. Eighty five percent of shows are crap and of the 15% good ones 85% of the episodes are crap. Very short run series of six or 12 episodes can sidestep the 85% rule because all the filler is missing. Thereby you can have a show like Fawlty Towers or the original Office or Curb your Enthusiasm. There have only been 18 episodes of ST:Discovery and it took nearly nine or ten episodes to get me hooked. Gotta wade through a lot of garbage and filler to get to the good bits.

usedbooks at 3:37AM, Oct. 28, 2018

Autocorrect is useless. It changes words I want to junk, but couldn't change miid to mood.

usedbooks at 3:36AM, Oct. 28, 2018

The reason I have trouble finding shows/movies to enjoy is this very issue. Synopsis, plot, premise, and genre mean basically nothing as far as my enjoyment. Pacing, characters, miid, and writing mean everything. And you can't search for that easily. It's not typed up anywhere. Even in reviews and highly recommended shows, it doesn't mean much if it's not your preferences. I have been disappointed many times by picking up a celebrated, highly recommended series and finding out it is just high intensity and slow pacing. I like good anime, and that's even harder to come by and to search because the synopses are mostly ludicrous and/or generic/tropey. If you try to explain the premise of an anime to someone, you sound insane. And, again, the premise doesn't have any effect on whether it's a good show.

ozoneocean at 10:55PM, Oct. 27, 2018

@Gunwallace- It still stands even after the twist, though that does improve it granted. But most importantly you're watching 12 and a half episodes with very, very bad world building TILL that twist. If you stop before that final first season finale (as many people do with TV shows), then it never has a chance change anything. -That's not a criticism of the show at all because it is what it is, but it's a testament to our ability to tolerate bad world building weather we get a payoff or not.

ozoneocean at 10:48PM, Oct. 27, 2018

@JustNoPoint: ad banner links switched! Sorry man!

JustNoPoint at 5:57PM, Oct. 27, 2018

You mixed up the links in the banners =p

bravo1102 at 3:45PM, Oct. 27, 2018

The world building that works best is often the least intrusive. The characters all believe it so the readers find themselves drawn into it. And it can be left up to geeks on internet forums to pick everything apart. Great world building won't save a weak or poorly told story. Just look at Sword of Kings. There were all kinds of maps and costumes and notes on everything but that didn't make up for things that weren't there like story and character. All window dressing and furnishings won't save a poorly built house.

Gunwallace at 3:41PM, Oct. 27, 2018

I really think you're judging it before you know all the facts. The 'world-building' holds up once you understand who actually built the world and why.

bravo1102 at 3:37PM, Oct. 27, 2018

Sometimes a story is worth the suspension of disbelief. Other times all the world building clutters things up. There is a huge difference in how I approach the world building in Sword of Kings and my sci-fi. In SoK the world was the story in how parts interacted so there was all kinds of detail. But I kept info dumps out of the story and I am told it worked. In my sci-fi its all one universe and things run the same through it but nearly nothing is ever explained in detail. Characters take it for granted. It's how stuff works and no.one goes around explaining stuff. I just finished reading a great history of Waterloo. One of the prevailing themes was that no one really knew what was going on in the battle. They only knew what there was in front of them.

bravo1102 at 3:25PM, Oct. 27, 2018

Good "world building " is like setting the stage in any story except the world isn't quite the every day. It can be historical or fantastical or just "one step beyond". If the characters take something for granted it is not the author's responsibility to explain everything in vivid detail. Like the example I've used before of an internal combustion engine. It's a daily part of our lives but most of us do not go around explaining it in detail. Nanobot underwear? How many if us truly know how the underwear you have on works in exhausting detail? Trust me there is plenty of detail to get exhausted about in the manufacturing of a pair of boxer briefs let alone a woman's bra. But his many of us feel a need to explain it?

mks_monsters at 9:43AM, Oct. 27, 2018

To be very honest, I don't entirely agree. I think some settings are a bit too... silly and they can kind of mess with the story. I love fantasy themed family sitcoms as they can be great and there are those iconic ones you mentioned, but when it gets complicated, controversial or questionable, that's when I get a bit lost. If you're trying to make sense in a world where things don't make sense, how are you supposed to see the relationships, character development and plot after? Plus, not every idea has been done as much as we thought it has. There are plenty of real life situations which have yet to be openly portrayed. Just look at many LGBT+ type characters, family members and parents in which they are portrayed realistically rather than comic relief or fanservice. Or trying to show sitcoms about people who CHOOSE to be single parents, but showing it realistically rather than ideally. Just because it's real life doesn't mean it's been done. However, I respect the opinion here.

rmccool at 9:19AM, Oct. 27, 2018

was trying to read a sifi a while back where they spent a full page explaining how nanobot underwear would work.. and I just couldn't do it..i could not finish that book. it was a do I even care moment . the explanations broke up the action to much and distracted from the story.. if the nanobot underwear had malfunctioned that would of been worth reading but it didn't they just put it on.. the far side cow tools joke is worth consideration on the subject of world building.. as no explanation is given we the reader/viewer have to fill in the gab of what the heck the other tools do .. it gives you the freedom to circle back and use the unexplained object.. and the reader the freedom to come up with there own answers.. that might be actually more interesting then my answers..

JaymonRising at 9:18AM, Oct. 27, 2018

I always saw sci-fi as less of a case for world building and more of a case for world allegory, with movies like Arrival, Elysium, or Inception very much taking place in the real world yet using technological depth to touch upon complex issues of the human condition.

usedbooks at 8:12AM, Oct. 27, 2018

The second season is extra convoluted. (And they concluded the season an episode too late, which bugs me as a writer.) But the humor stays on top.

ozoneocean at 7:57AM, Oct. 27, 2018

Even with the "twist" the premise doesn't get that much more sold, it's still a pretty loose show.

usedbooks at 6:30AM, Oct. 27, 2018

And I know that's hard to do as a writer because you get excited to share all the detailed stuff you worked out. But you have to step back and be a reader sometimes.

usedbooks at 6:28AM, Oct. 27, 2018

I can't watch fantasy anime or get into most jrpg stories because so many spend 99% of the time explaining how magic (and/or the government) works, 1% on plot, and 0% on characters. World building is important, but fold it into the stories. It's okay to not explain everything! You can leave that in your personal notes and diagrams.

Tantz_Aerine at 6:21AM, Oct. 27, 2018

I think that 'The Good Place' is going for 'you might think this is heaven but it's actually hell'. At least that's what it sounded like to me from all the trailers and stuff I've seen. I haven't actually watched it. But yeah, a solid world building isn't always needed and certain genres even don't require it at all. Others, on the other hand, need it because it's part of the genre itself (like high fantasy).

usedbooks at 3:56AM, Oct. 27, 2018

The setting of Used Books isn't highly detailed. Although that was my point in ultimately choosing it. My early setting debate was whether I wanted to tell a story in a small town or a city. A town setting is fun because it is so contained and streamlined. You can set every building in town and get to know every street, every family. I thoroughly enjoy fantasy-reality stories set in small towns. But ultimately, I wanted a loose setting, so I picked a city. In a city, if you need a new building or character or neighborhood, you can bring it into existence from the ether. You also have other elements that don't exist in small towns, which are good plot devices. Highrises, public transportation, cinemas, malls, night clubs, hotels... For a long-running project, it's a great sandbox to play in. (For a shorter work, I prefer a small town or something even more contained and more real world.)

usedbooks at 3:46AM, Oct. 27, 2018

I enjoyed that series quite a bit. The plot was unique but really just a framework to hang humor from (like any good sitcom).


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