January 11, 2013
While I'm working on the conclusion of the newest Frysteland story arc, Nightwraith asked me to go into a little bit of depth about world building. One of the great things about a creative endeavor like this is that we can create a vast universe with a rich history, various cultures, and a vibrant future. This, however, presents various challenges.
When building a world, an important thing to consider is where it falls on the Magic - Technology scale, and whether it's primitive or advanced. A sufficiently advanced magic-based world can have elements like browsing the ScryNet on your crystal ball and calling up the local IT Wizard to say a repair incantation over it when you can't read your m-mail or interstellar travel by means of dragon. A primitive technology-based society would involve a lot of bashing rocks together and the use of simple tools and machines.
Using the Krampus creation myth as an example, I'll try to explore some of these challenges. One of the most exciting and difficult aspects of creating a culture is determining their beliefs and practices. While the Krampus are in part based upon ancient Northern European cultures, I've borrowed ideas from Native American Pueblo and Zuni people- for example, the idea of sacred spaces being below the ground- as well as some others. In contrast, Snork's race is based somewhat upon Slavs by way of Mexico. It's good to look at existing world cultures as well as existing fiction.
I hadn't really codified the Krampus creation myth until called upon to think about the Endless, who as you'll recall is a powerful, immortal being who inhabits the Void. By necessity, any native peoples on Delta V will have to address the Void in their cosmology, so it makes logical sense to involve it in their creation story (in the case of the Krampus, they believe that their deities came from the Void). It's been previously established that the Krampus are a highly religious, superstitious culture, with alternations between agricultural and nomadic lifestyles. They are polytheistic and engage in some degree of ancestor worship, which is related to their belief that their race is descended from gods.
Creation stories often have several elements in common, mainly how the world came to be, who the forces ruling the world are, where death, illness, etc. come from, among other issues. In a culture like the Krampus, where they have to survive in a harsh environment while warring with neighboring tribes, the opportunity to grow old and die would be considered a blessing rather than a punishment. Geography is going to play a huge role in how your culture's going to develop, so keep this in mind when trying to build a fictional world. Nomadic, warlike peoples in a harsh environment aren't necessarily going to have the same kinds of rites, practices, and values as an agrarian society.
The challenge then is to integrate character, culture, and plot where they intersect. Your individual characters are going to have different experiences, and experience the same event differently because of personality, gender, age, etc. Think of your characters as people, but also think of them as tools. Don't get so involved with characters that you can't allow anything bad to happen to them- especially if the character is an Author Avatar. A common pitfall in writing characters based on the author is that they end up being too perfect, ie a “Mary Sue”. Whether you're writing an original story or fan fiction, should you have an author avatar character, you want to make sure that the character is flawed, that there are challenges the character needs help to overcome, and that you're not using the character for escape or wish fulfillment. Think of Sancho Panza, Hermione Granger, Professor Digory Kirke, Faramir/Beren, etc. Try to avoid comparisons to Bella Swan. This is especially challenging when writing for AE since many of the characters are blatant author avatars. When writing as Cinderella, I try to use how I would react to situations as a benchmark for how she reacts, and she'll say things I will actually say in conversation, and she shares some of my research interests. I do have to watch for wish-fulfillment in areas like her relationship with the Lawman (unfortunately, I will never get the chance to reconcile with my own father, but Cinderella may). When writing for a culture or peoples, you avoid the idea of a Race of Sues, or a Planet of Hats. Characters don't all have to be the last of their kind, or some kind of free-thinking radical, or otherwise extreme to be interesting. Every Citizen of Delta V doesn't have to be the Chosen Hero of the Exiles Who Will Save The Universe Singlehandedly.
So, what does that leave us with? Beyond I'm sure turning all of you off of ever trying to write anything ever, I hope this gives you insight into how you have to think to be a successful (er... semi-successful) writer. By keeping a log of in-world continuity, it can help against revelations or characters seeming forced- and address issues like “Why can't the Krampus just summon the Endless constantly?” or “Why haven't we seen this important Administrator yet?” In a serial work like this, you have to be able to seamlessly insert new information, or even make references that the player won't understand because of lack of exposition but that the existing characters know intimately. An exercise I use is just to write short stories about characters in their voices and frame them within the timeline. Most of this is never seen by players (though some is posted in the DN's) but it hopefully enriches the storyline and makes EpicDuel's universe an engaging world.