Creating Worlds

How to create a fully functioning world for you to populate with characters and write stories about.

Writers are fortunate that they already have a fully functioning world to write stories about.  It’s very convenient.  All you need then is a scenario.  Something interesting happening in our world.  For crime fiction this scenario can be someone commits a murder.  The writer then goes about writing what would happen in our society if someone commits a murder.  Crime fiction often goes that extra step and asks what if someone committed an unsolvable crime.  How would you solve it?  What if you want more than just writing a story in our world though?  What if you want to create a completely new world?  How do you go about it?

I will give you my method.  How I create worlds.  To create a world all you need is a question.  Find one thing to change in our world and you immediately create a completely different world.  That may sound like an exaggeration but with the right tools one question changes everything.  Take the crime fiction.  Instead of the unsolvable murder we set it in a world where murder is perfectly legal.  Suddenly our story ceases being a crime fiction since the action isn’t a crime.  The first thing we need to answer when changing something about our world is; is this possible in our society? If our government made murder legal what would happen?  The answer is probably that society would fall apart within the year.  That could be your story right there except that it would never happen.   That’s how you know that such a thing wouldn’t function in our society.   So obviously we have to change our society to a society where not only could that happen but it has.  As the creator of worlds you now have to make the society functional.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  In fact you can design it so that it’s on the brink of collapse.  However you do it.  Idealistic utopia or on the verge of anarchy or somewhere in between the society taking shape has to deviate from our society to make the new constant functional and believable.

How do you create this new society though?  A good starting point is with the typical Joe Blow of this world.  What is his life like?  You don’t need to give him much character or anything.  Just start up a dialogue with him as the average guy on the street.  Interrogate him about the world.  In this process it is important to remember that to Joe his world is totally normal and if he was a writer perhaps he’d be pondering what a world with murder as a crime would be like (well there’s a storyline idea already).   Ask him questions and the world will start taking shape around him.  For example:

Me:  So Joe, tell me, what would happen if you murdered your neighbour.

Joe:  Their friends and family would probably either come round and ask me why I did it or they’d kill me.  Or both.

Me:  Ok so people don’t kill each other because they’d probably be killed?

Joe:  Plenty of people are willing to take the chance.

Me:  oh Ok.  What about if you made it so that his friends and family couldn’t kill you or talk to you about it?

Joe:  How would I do that?

Me:  Maybe if you made your house impregnable?

Joe:  Build a castle?

Me:  Yea

Joe:  Oh I don’t have the resources for that.

Me:  What if you did?

Joe:  I suppose they’d try and destroy my castle  (another story idea)

Me:  What about people who do have the resources?  Do they have private armies and castles?

Joe:  Oh yea, the rich live in high security houses with a personal trained guard

Me:  Do the rich wage war on each other?

Joe:  It can happen.  if one company wants to take over another they can do it with force.  Usually it destroys the assets they want so it’s not that common. (another story line)

Me:  Do the rich kill people since they can’t be harmed?

Joe:  Some rich people hunt humans (another story line)

and so on…

Just so you know, I’m not working on any of those stories.  In fact I just wrote up that dialogue then based on that one simple question; what if murder was legal?  Now this may not be spot on.  That doesn’t matter, it’s not about doing a research paper on what the statistical probabilities are were we to make murder legal.  It’s about creating a believable world.  Maybe allowing people to kill each other would create some perfect kill free world.  Maybe they never had to specify not to kill people.  Maybe everyone is extremely polite and civil to each other terrified that the slightest social faux pas would result in their death.  Perhaps no one questions a murder because they assume the person deserved it.   Maybe the paranoia of being killed is too high for some people that they kill before they can be killed.  The possibilities go on.

This is how I create worlds.  I start with a question.  Then,  I put people in that world and start asking them questions.  Making characters who are experts in a certain area in that world also helps to flesh it out.  Instead of just a societal perspective you can also gain academic perspectives.  As the writer of this world you can interrogate anyone.  These characters need never even make it to the story you write.  They are there to bounce your ideas off.    In addition to fleshing out your world these dialogues create more and more questions.  One questions leads to many.

This is the way I do it.  I’d be interested to know how other people create worlds.

Even if you are not a writer, creating worlds is a fun logic puzzle.  Enjoy.

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