Why Saving the World is a Terrible Idea

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

Don’t misunderstand me, dear reader! The world is an important place, especially for world-builders such as ourselves. And yet, when it comes to “saving the world” as a plot, I’d argue it is the least fulfilling story a writer can tell. Why is my opinion on this matter important, you ask? Hell if I know, but since you’re here why not see what I have to say about it?

To start off, I want to get my biggest point out of the way: saving the world isn’t relatable. Let’s be honest with ourselves, not many of us have what it takes to save the world. At least, not in the way fiction oftentimes depicts saving the world. We aren’t powerful sorcerers, nor are we predestined heroes of justice with divine blood running through our veins.

Or maybe some of you reading this are. In which case, feel free to hit me up! Would love to know what that’s like.

Reeling this back towards my point, stories the reader can relate to are far more compelling than ones where the fate of the world is at stake. That’s not to say we can’t enjoy stories like the latter. If we didn’t find them enjoyable, then we wouldn’t have as many superhero movies as we do. There’s nothing wrong with escapism, but even with superheroes, we enjoy them because their characters resonate with us, not because they’re saving the world for the fifth time this week.

But a plot focusing on people’s day-to-day struggles leaves much more room for memorable characters and stories. Some of them are larger-than-life, certainly, but there’s a higher chance somebody is going to relate to the story of personal struggle versus bearing the weight of the whole world on your shoulders.

My second point ties into this mindset a great deal, so much so that you might as well just consider it point one and a half. What point is that, you ask? Well, maybe it’s just me, but saving the world seems pretty boring. It’s one of those things you decide to write about when you run out of ideas. They’re easier to write - in my experience, anyway — but usually lack the same kind of depth that down — to-earth stories do.

Bringing it back to superhero movies, I’m going to sort of spoil Avengers: Infinity War (not really, but there’s a warning for those who are extra sensitive about movie spoilers). The movie isn’t interesting and successful because it’s another “let’s save the world” story, but because the audience is invested in the characters. And the reason they’re invested in the characters is because they’ve watched them go through much more personal struggles.

So, start there! Write stories that focus on more intimate story-lines and build up your characters. After that, if you’re still interested, then by all means write about them going through one of the weakest story-lines imaginable.


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Daniel Neubauer

Daniel is a second-year student of the Professional Writing Program at Algonquin College with a terrible sense of humour and an interest in all sorts of music. Whether it be due to raw talent or absolute dumb luck, he’s somehow made it this far and is ready to subject more unsuspecting students to his opinions.

Legally Up To You

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

We have all grown up with laws that we must follow, a legal system that keeps us in check. It’s one part of your world that must be thought out. For example, you may have a rebel that wants to fight against every law, but what are those laws? What are the penalties for breaking them?

Your laws can be changed by aspects that exist in your world. Like the world of Altered Carbon, a TV show based on the novel written by Richard K. Morgan. In this world, people are able to transfer their consciousness to another body, allowing them to live endlessly if their brains are not harmed in death. This kind of aspect will affect your world since bodies are just objects to the characters, and their penalties for certain crimes could be much different from ours.

So, everything that you choose for your world will affect the laws, their penalties and those that enforce or fight against them.

What if you have magic in your world? Would those that work for the government have magic? Would those solving a crime be able to use spells or incantations to find the perpetrator? Would that magic be acceptable as evidence in a court of law? Is there more than one court so each species can have a fair trial?

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

Are criminals with magic placed in the same prison as humans? Are they stripped of their powers for minor and/or major crimes? Are they placed in power-dampening cuffs and put in specific cells, like meta-humans in The Flash?

What about the classes? Are some species more noble than others? Are they considered above the law? Are they given easier sentences? Are weapons given to the classes? Are there types of weapons only specified for certain classes? Are certain classes trained in particular skills?

Are those certain species born on different worlds? Are they treated differently than those born on your world? Are those species chipped and tracked to protect those living on the world, like the aliens in Supergirl? Or are they all given the same fair trial as everyone, without incorporating their differences?

Does more than one government create the law for the world? Is there one for humans and another secret one for a hidden world? Does the human government know about the secret one? Do they communicate, but keep the secret government hidden from the human world? Does the human government have a say in the secret government? Is the secret government divided into smaller separate parties?

Your legal system is as important as creating the places that your characters live in. Whether they are criminal or social laws, you can’t have a villain or a hero without your laws. In one world they could be a villain and a hero but in another their roles could be switched. Laws are the backbone of society, whether that society is organized or chaotic.


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Marli Jago

Marli is an aspiring writer in the Professional Writing Program. On the off chance that she isn’t writing, she is playing card games, reading, or hanging out at the nearest Tim Horton’s with her friends.


How to Make Your Fantasy Economy a Reality

image courtesy of pexels.com

image courtesy of pexels.com

It’s now time for everyone’s favourite world-building topic: the economy. Wait, come back! Yes, it can be a dry topic but it can also have a big impact on your world.

Consider Black Panther and the fictional country of Wakanda. Its primary resource, Vibranium, is a powerful metal that allows Wakanda to remain rich yet completely isolated—a premise that raises interesting economic questions. The Economist magazine, for example, has an article called “Wakandanomics” which considers what a Wakandan economy would look like in the real world and how it would compare to the economies of other countries.

As the article explains, Wakanda is unusual in that it doesn’t export its most valuable resource. Instead, Wakandans use Vibranium to make their own weaponry and transport, as well as the “nano-tech” panthersuit. From the article: “It is as if Botswana not only mined, cut and polished diamonds, but also designed and produced the world’s diamond necklaces, drills and bearings.” Even Wakanda’s finished products are bought and sold almost entirely by Wakandans themselves. With that in mind, you should ask yourself what effect the economy has on your world’s trade relationships (and vice versa).

“Given that economic conditions can have a significant impact on people’s motivations, you may want to consider whether your fictional world is capitalist, socialist, or something else entirely.”

Another example of a fictional, robust economy can be found in the Star Trek universe. In the “post-scarcity” Star Trek federation, money as we know it no longer exists. Everything they need—including hot meals—they can get through the use of replicators.

Manu Saadia, who appeared with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman on a New York Comic Con panel, is the author of Trekonomics. He points out that a society in which material wealth is abundant changes people’s priorities. Its inhabitants are more likely to value status and therefore want to cultivate talent and intellect. People continue to find things to compete over, as well. As Saadia says, “[w]hat’s not abundant in Star Trek’s universe is the captain’s chair.”

Krugman, for his part, provides a real-world example of shifting values due to economic equality: “Some of us live—actually college professors—live in an environment where there isn’t that much disparity in salaries but there’s lots of disparity in prestige and how you’re regarded….” The end of want does not guarantee the end of evil or major problems, either. Referring to the Star Trek universe, Krugman says “there’s violence, there’s war, there’s an amazing number of holodeck malfunctions.”

Given that economic conditions can have a significant impact on people’s motivations, you may want to consider whether your fictional world is capitalist, socialist, or something else entirely. Maybe, like Star Trek, your world doesn’t have money but, unlike Star Trek, is primarily agrarian. In Lord of the Rings’ “The Shire”, for example, it appears that its Hobbit inhabitants rely almost entirely on local resources and agriculture. The One Ring itself, however, could be considered the ultimate currency. In a world that includes limited access to magic, anything that makes magic possible, such as the One Ring, becomes immensely valuable.

Granted, you likely won’t take a deep dive into economic theory in your actual narrative. But knowing how your world’s economy works can help you better understand your characters’ motivations and shape the way your stories unfold.

 


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Alex Dempster

After graduating from Ryerson University in 2009, Alex spent many years trying to figure out exactly what he wanted to do in life. Eventually he decided to focus on writing. He spends his free time following the latest political news and cheering on the Toronto Blue Jays.

What Do Your Characters Do For Fun?

image COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

image COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

Everybody needs a day off, even superheroes. When creating your world, you may want to consider what people do when they’re not busy fending for their lives or reaching for the far ends of the galaxy. Let’s look at a few examples.

Poker night in Star Trek: The Next Generation. From time to time, Captain Picard, Commander Riker, Commander Troi, etc. get together for a game of poker. It’s how they bond and forget that they’re a long, long way from home. In other episodes, we catch a glimpse of Commander Riker playing the trombone for his fellow officers. The familiarity of these activities helps bring people into that world. It also helps make the arcane elements such as the Prime Directive or the physics of warp speed more palatable, and can add a little levity to overly-serious story lines.

Other times, these activities can make for great comedy while maintaining or even adding to the realism. For example, in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, there is a hilarious scene in which a small, sparse crowd attends a “children’s matinee” gladiator competition. After one fight, someone is seen picking up the limbs of the deceased gladiators.

Of course, this scene is supposed to be funny and absurd but, surprisingly, it adds an element of realism. Life of Brian is set in Biblical Israel during Roman rule. When we imagine a gladiator fight, we probably picture a packed stadium with the Caesar present—basically, the championship match. But what about during the regular season? Like poorly attended sporting and theatre events of today, there would likely have been gladiator fights that few people were interested in. From that absurd scene, we also learn something about that society’s mentality: they did not prevent children from seeing deadly fights.

Of course, you can make up your own fictional activities as well. In Harry Potter, for example, we are introduced to Quidditch, the game played with flying broomsticks. In Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, we are introduced to Podracing. The addition of both these sports does more than merely entertain—it also adds depth to their respective worlds. The activity doesn’t need to be elaborate, though. Even something as simple as a hobbits’ drinking song in Lord of the Rings makes the characters more relatable.

Weaving characters’ everyday activities into the main narrative can be tricky but, done right, can make for some of the most memorable scenes.


Parliament.jpg

Alex Dempster

After graduating from Ryerson University in 2009, Alex spent many years trying to figure out exactly what he wanted to do in life. Eventually he decided to focus on writing. He spends his free time following the latest political news and cheering on the Toronto Blue Jays.

Questions To Detail Your World

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

We create worlds from our imagination. Each one is different and each one is our own, from a hidden world of magic to the secret life of aliens. There are endless thoughts that race through our minds every day, but only few are able to catch those that create the fantasies.

A world is created from just one thought, a thought that makes you think. A thought that asks you questions upon questions and this post is going to do the same. These questions will make you think about the details, so you can walk in your world.

Geography

First things first, how is your world set up—how does it look from a satellite? How are the continents placed on your world? Does it even have continents? Does it have oceans? Is there a north and south pole, like Earth?

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

Speaking of Earth, how does it compare to our planet? Does it have mountains and mountain ranges? Does it have forests? What types of forests? All of them? None of them?

Has the civilization ruined the world—similarly to Morag and Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy? One planet was destroyed by a global warming catastrophe and the other demolished by the need for power. Or has the civilization thrived with the world and its resources? Like that of the country Wakanda, hidden in a forest in Africa.

You choose how your world looks, how the people on it live, and how each area of the world is different—if at all.

Climate

With different areas come different climates. Earth’s climate works both from the sun’s heat and the axis of our planet. How does the sun’s heat cover your world? Do you even have a sun? Does your world defy the science we have been shown? Are there only spots of cold, or is the whole world always freezing?

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

However, climate cannot be described just by hot and cold. What about humidity? Is it as sweating hot as our summers, or a dry hot like the Caribbean’s? Is it as bone chilling as our winter or just a quick chill like Manitoba? What makes your world’s climate similar and/or different to reality?

Also, remember that climate affects the vegetation of areas, which in turn affects the animals that live there. So you should think about both vegetation and animals in the area, and how they interact with each other. Because you could make it any way you wanted—you could have it the other way around, where the vegetation is affected by the animals.

Civilization

Now, the people that live in your world also depend on the area that they live in, whether it is from their resources, their societal norms, or from their religions. Each aspect of the people living in your world comes from where they are, who they are surrounded by, and what their personality is.

So you need to ask yourself… What do they look like? How do they act among themselves and/or others? What do they eat? How do they live? Where do they live?

There are so many pieces to creating a world, you just have to be willing to piece them together to make the full picture. Without you, it will never be achieved.

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it, we go nowhere.
— Carl Sagan

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Marli Jago

Marli is an aspiring writer in the Professional Writing Program. On the off chance that she isn’t writing, she is playing card games, reading, or hanging out at the nearest Tim Horton’s with her friends.


Why is History Important for World-building?

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

Everybody has a different way of starting the process of building their own world. Some writers start by drawing a map, detailing how everything looks and marking down key locations. Others begin the process by writing up characters, building up their personality and then molding the world to fit around them. Personally, I always start with the history of my world. Feel free to disagree with me here, but I’d say history is the most important aspect of world-building as a whole. “Why do you think that, Daniel?” I hear you asking me... or maybe I’m mishearing you. Oh well, doesn’t really matter because I’m answering that question whether you like it or not.

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

The driving force behind this belief of mine is that history provides answers to all sorts of different questions. Say you want to focus on the languages spoken in your world, and you want to know why the people of a certain continent speak a different language than their neighbouring one. You’ll find the answer lies in its history. Or perhaps your world is filled to the brim with bards and storytellers. Where did they get these songs to sing and stories to tell? You see where I’m going with this?

History can also help you drive home the hook of a story you might want to write. Maybe your story revolves around how history is repeating itself, and the people in power are making the same mistakes their ancestors did thousands of years ago. Better yet, the main character and their friends have to save the world by awakening a slumbering god that was forced into a deep sleep long ago.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that starting with the history of your world is the best way to begin the world-building process. Every writer has their own method, and none of those methods are wrong. After all, a world wouldn’t be very interesting without cool locales or compelling characters. I just find that history often serves as the backbone to the ideas writers have when building up their worlds and the stories that take place in them. Maybe you agree with me, or maybe you think I’m full of shit and built this belief on a foundation of sand. Regardless, I hope that this at least gave you, my dear reader, a different perspective on an important part of world-building.


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Daniel Neubauer

Daniel is a second-year student of the Professional Writing Program at Algonquin College with a terrible sense of humour and an interest in all sorts of music. Whether it be due to raw talent or absolute dumb luck, he’s somehow made it this far and is ready to subject more unsuspecting students to his opinions.

How to Break Your Own Rules

Courtesy of  Unsplash

Courtesy of Unsplash

When creating a new world, consistency and continuity are key. Once you know what the rules are, you may intentionally break them, but only if the audience understands why you’re doing it. A good example of purposeful rule breaking is in the movie Pleasantville, which is set in both the real world and a fictional black and white fifties-style sitcom world called Pleasantville.

The premise of the movie is that the main character David (Tobey Maguire) loves fictional Pleasantville so much that he wishes he could live there. One day he receives a magic TV remote that sucks him and his sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) into that world. Everything is perfect and undisturbed until Jennifer rocks the boat by not behaving “correctly”. The result is that some objects turn to colour. At first, just a flower or two, but eventually people as well. It’s not what’s supposed to happen and it freaks out the inhabitants of Pleasantville.

These changes are intrinsic to the main plot. The longer David and Jennifer inhabit the fictional Pleasantville, the more Pleasantville deviates from its fictional foundation. It’s not just that the black and white world turns colourful. It’s also that people no longer behave in predictable ways: wives no longer prepare dinner for their husbands, and a fast food worker decides to become an artist. Also, people learn about sex, something that is never discussed in old black and white sitcoms. Basically, we know what Pleasantville is supposed to look and feel like before the changes occur, which is what makes the changes so jarring.

Another example of deliberate rule breaking is found in the movie Hook, starring Robin Williams as an adult Peter Pan. The movie turns the idea of magic versus reality upside down by taking magic away. When Robin Williams’ character returns to Neverland, he is an outcast. The boys of Neverland hate the now middle-aged lawyer who tries to impose his own order on them. Of particular note, he can no longer fly! By playing against expectations, the writers of Hook give a fresh take on the fictional Neverland.

Other times, changing or breaking the rules merely confuses the audience, like in the Star Wars universe and its depiction of the Force. In the original movie, A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi explains the Force to Luke Skywalker in a mystical way. In the first prequel, The Phantom Menace, however, we are introduced to the concept of midi-chlorians. A young Anakin Skywalker has more midi-chlorians than average and therefore, the story goes, he is better connected to the Force.

Things change again in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, when it becomes clear that everyone has access to the Force, undermining the idea of there being a genetic basis. I would argue that the introduction of midi-chlorians was a wholly unnecessary pseudo-scientific addition to the Star Wars universe, which did not align with the franchise’s otherwise spiritual dimension.

So, writers, you can break the rules of your universe to great effect, but make sure you know what the rules are in the first place, and why you’re breaking them.


Parliament.jpg

Alex Dempster

After graduating from Ryerson University in 2009, Alex spent many years trying to figure out exactly what he wanted to do in life. Eventually he decided to focus on writing. He spends his free time following the latest political news and cheering on the Toronto Blue Jays.

Five Aspects to Consider When Building a Settlement

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

IMAGE COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM

Whether it be a corporate-owned statelet in a dystopian future or a small and homely farming village in a high fantasy setting, settlements can serve as a good way to start when one wants to begin building a world. But starting such a process is never so simple, and writers might find themselves struggling. Have no fear, for this short and sweet list is here to help, with suggestions and examples to spare!

  1. The Settlement’s History.

    Before a writer can focus on the present day affairs of a settlement, they should start with building up its history. How was it founded? Is this a new settlement, or one whose roots were set long ago? How far the writer goes into these details is completely up to them, but building up a settlement’s past can lead to some interesting story hooks for the future!

  2. How the Settlement is Governed.

    Another aspect to focus on is how your settlement goes about governing itself. Maybe the government isn’t located out in the open, but rather underground - where a dangerous guild of thieves pulls the strings. Perhaps you’d prefer a totalitarian king and his noble family grinding their heel into the common folk. Does your government impose a curfew? Do soldiers march up and down the streets because people are unhappy with how things are run? The list goes on, but as you continue to build up your ideas, consider how heavily the government influences your settlement.

  3. Where your Settlement is Located.

    Location is an important cornerstone for any settlement, as it can help an author determine its culture. Maybe it’s a series of intertwining tunnels carved out of the side of an active volcano, or perhaps your sci-fi story takes place inside a large colony-ship drifting through space.

  4. Your Settlement’s Resources.

    How loaded is your settlement? Do they have a bountiful amount of material wealth and live everyday as if there were blue skies? Or do people scrounge around and engage in seedy activities because supplies are scarce? Maybe whoever founded this settlement didn’t build near enough natural resources, and now they have to turn to their neighbours to make due. Speaking of which...

  5. Settlement’s Relationship with Neighbours.

    Is your city at war? No? Phew, good to hear, but remember some settlements might be! Regardless of the reason, having settlements with a patchy relationship could make for an interesting story. That being said, other settlements have completely peaceful relationships, engaging in lucrative trade and maybe even arranging marriages. The motivations behind “why” is secondary and totally up to you, but stop to consider how your settlement might interact with others.


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Daniel Neubauer

Daniel is a second-year student of the Professional Writing Program at Algonquin College with a terrible sense of humour and an interest in all sorts of music. Whether it be due to raw talent or absolute dumb luck, he’s somehow made it this far and is ready to subject more unsuspecting students to his opinions.