LESSON Creating the Unexpected

Discussion in 'CREATING WORLDS & SETTINGS' started by Minibit, Mar 19, 2013.

  1. I think one of the hardest parts of creating a world is making it unpredictable. One of the hurdles of fiction writing is that fiction has more rules than reality. When you are writing a story about a young drama student in Vancouver, BC, who dreams of being an actor one day, you don’t have to make the premise believable to your audience; there are plenty of drama majors in the world, and most of them probably want to be on stage or screen someday. Now, try making me believe that a drama major in Vancouver, BC, gets sucked into an alternate world, because he is the only person who can save that world from a great peril; bit tougher, isn’t it?

    In the backs of our heads, we know that there’s no such thing as dragons and unicorns (bear with me a minute, the point of this post is NOT to crush your dreams), but a well-constructed world can allow us to put aside our disbelief, because the world presents these creatures in such a way that it makes sense for them to be there. But at the same time, a lot of people prefer worlds that avoid clichés, because they make a world predictable and not much fun to explore.

    So, how do we make a fictional world believable without making it predictable?

    Establish Rules of the Universe
    Rules sound boring, but every universe has them; in our world, we usually call them Laws; for example the law of gravity; without a significant intervention (ie; a stored mass of helium or a jet engine) things will be pulled downward. In the Whoniverse there are Fixed Points in time that can never be changed; no matter what crazy gadgets the characters have, some things HAVE to happen; it’s a law. Ground pokemon are always going to be vulnerable to water-types; it’s a law.
    Laws make things make sense; if a universe has no laws, then anything can happen, and as exciting as that sounds, it makes a universe confusing and hard to play in. A certain amount of random-factor makes things fun, but it’s important to establish at least a few base concepts that the world must obey, or the world becomes hard to understand, much less get sucked into.

    Make it Challenging!
    Your world needs to be fun to play in, but nothing is fun if it’s easy to beat any challenge thrown your way! When developing the powers, abilities, tameable monsters, and other cool facets of your world, try to make sure to avoid providing troubled characters with an easy Deus Ex Machina, which is an unexpected power or event saving a hopeless situation, most often used as a plot device.
    Make sure your world plays by its rules when things change; throwing in a new rule just in time to solve a problem is lazy writing; especially if that thing never shows up again. Here’s some tips to keep deus ex machinas from occurring:

    · In a world with magic/psychic powers, establish rules for how new powers must be learned. For example, in the potterverse, most wizards cannot master a spell the first time they read it; they need to learn the pronunciation, the motion, and the mindset. Harry Potter’s ability to master new spells in very short periods of time is unique to his character, so in the potterverse, a character getting out of a jam by getting tossed a brand new spell is unlikely to work very well.

    · Limiting how well these powers work under different circumstances can help prevent them from being used as deus ex machinas as well (for example, a Jedi needs concentration and a clear mind to use the Force effectively)

    · Nothing should ever work 100% of the time. Tamed creatures and mediums are living beings, not drones, so there should always be the possibility of their being in a bad mood, tired, or just stubborn enough to not do their master’s bidding. Magic is super easy to use as a deus ex machina, so provide multiple scenarios where magic will not work (if the mage is tired, if it’s raining, if they can’t concentrate, if they do not have the right materials, etc).

    · Once you’ve established something in the universe, try to avoid multiple evolutions of it; by which I mean that while it’s fine to give your toys and powers upgrades from time to time, try to keep their functions mostly the same. Many fans have criticised Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver as being a deus ex machina because there are so few things that the Doctor can’t solve by introducing a new setting on the screwdriver. Establish parameters for things, and stay within the lines; a magical wand that draws power from flowers may get an upgrade to allow it to draw from something else, too; but make sure the ‘something else’ stays within the parameters of natural life, or it’ll be way to easy to create a deus ex machine via wand evolution.​

    Boldly Go!
    To create a world that’s fun to explore, you need to break out of the clichés and boldly go where no man has gone before! Now don’t get me wrong, some things are found everywhere in fiction because they are popular and everyone likes it, but it’s important to be able to create your own fun things and not just rely on the tried and true. Some methods to help you avoid cliché worlds!

    · Try making a list of the most done-to-death clichés, and pin them up in your workspace (ie; by your desk or computer) as a reminder of what to NEVER DO. (ie: gypsies cursing people, magical swords of destiny, kidnapped princesses, prophetic dream powers, collecting something to complete a quest)

    · Some clichés are so worn into fiction writing, that things just don’t seem right without them (ie; dragons who hoard treasure, imps being mischievous and small, Dwarves who love mining and being underground). For these, it can be tough to break the clichés entirely and still leave the subject identifiable; so it may be easier to simply BEND them. A Dragon who hoards treasure, but is intelligent and will give some away if they’re given something else they crave would be recognizeable and interesting. The Dragonlance series took an interesting twist on the Dwarves and Holes trope by having multiple subspecies of dwarves beyond mountain-mining ones (gully dwarves, hill dwarves, etc)

    · Try borrowing more from the mythology that fantasy fiction usually derives from. Maybe try researching the Brazillian vampire legends, where a vampire was not a handsome youth who would seduce you into anemia, but a head with tentacles that flew through the skies sweeping children out of their cradles! You might swap the riddle-loving dragons of yore with the infamous trolls; having them guard gates and bridges, only letting travellers who could beat them in a match of wits pass. Fantasy fiction has evolved a lot over the years; going back to the roots can give you a refreshing new perspective.​

    Logic indicates…
    Whatever you decide to put in your new world, make sure it makes sense. You can’t just have a fairy be especially vulnerable to magical attacks because that’ll make the pixie war against the human mages more interesting; everything has a reason and though you don’t have to spend pages or even paragraphs explaining it if it doesn’t come up, it’s good to know the reasoning behind why things work. For example, with the pixies, perhaps the magical properties of their blood react to the use of spells, causing an effect similar to that of Lemmings, who go insane when their blood chemistry changes. If you know the reasoning behind why things work the way they do, it can unlock new doors for story development (for example, the enemy mages might know this secret and start working on getting a substance into the pixie’s water supply that will double the effects on their blood from magic attacks; something that wouldn’t come up if the pixie’s weakness did not have an explanation.

    Your Turn!
    Do you have any handy tips to keep your worlds interesting and unique? Please share!
    • Like Like x 1