Since I started Dragonbane Creation, one of the main things I wanted tounderstand was understanding what is good worldbuilding. This is the most important question anybody creating imaginary worlds can ask themselves. If youidentify the core principles that can separate good versus bad worldbuilding, you are basically set. And it is not an easy feat. Among fiction worlds from video games, movies, tabletop games and books, they come in so many different styles and genres from cartoon for children to sophisticated mature ones.
I also have the secret wish of finding a good way to classify worlds and find ways to see them as tables of data to feed a super-duper random generator to create interesting new worlds. That is the data scientist part of me. Themore I think about it and the more I think we need to go beyond an externalclassification of worlds. You cannot separate them in categories such ascartoon, realistic or fantasy versus science-fiction. What makes two worlds be liked by somebody is vastly different and comes more from the ideas and emotions they give to the audience than from their genre. This is why this list has very abstract concepts. I took the list of all my favorite worlds and worlds which are successful and abstracted what applies to all of them. As you will see, it has nothing to do with their genre or visual style. And I wrote this list more for myself than to really share with people yet. In the future, I will have the ability to explain it in less abstract terms, but this seems to be the real core of it. As I refine my understanding of worldbuilding, I will come back to update them from time to time.
The world must have its roots in reality. It must represent realisticcharacters, ideas, motives and situations which are coming from the real world. This is done without ideological biases and without dumbing down, neutralizing, hiding or misrepresenting anything. Characters are normal people put in interesting situations. They can be quite simple, but they are not bastardized to fit a narrative. Their opinions and reactions naturally emerge from what they experience.
This does not limit the extent to which elements can be magnified orchanged but the reason must be to make the world most interesting, intense or beautiful and not to fit a narrative.
Everything in the world is a play between masculine and feminine characteristics and representations of masculine and feminine energies. There arepositive and negative representations of each in every situation. Both energies are balanced and seen as equal with realistic expressions of each one.
The world takes every occasion to make reality more interesting. Things are bigger, more intense, more relaxing, more harmonious, smarter or more peaceful than in reality. It is not about creating things that are fake to givesynthetic feelings but just pushing the boundaries of reality. It must give the audience a way to explore situations, characters, relationships, ideas andstories that they could normally not.
And characters must react as normal human beings to what they see andthe choices they make. They must not be heroes or special beings, but everyday people put into extraordinary worlds. In general, the kind of emotions thatcharacters will experience will be the emotions experienced by the audience.
The world must be a way to experience freedom and adventure. Characters must experience a life larger than average people in the real world. They must meet kings and queens, risk their life in spatial dogfights and make passionate love. The audience should feel empowered and that characters have free will over their actions. There should be a sense that the world is in motion and that it is filled with potential adventures and things to discover. Characters must be living this adventure and constantly progress and explore.
The world should approach themes and ideas in a mature way. And the world should not impose opinions on the audience. Characters should display a sense of responsibility towards what is happening in the world and decide for themselves what to do. The characters should drive the story and the story should not be happening to them. Characters should have motives and a purpose and should not be definedby their physical or mental attributes but by their actions and decisions. This helps avoid making stereotypical characters. Heroes are not born, they aremade. A character is not smart or kind but is a researcher wanting to discover new things or a priestess wanting to make her village blossom.
The world must be full of life. At every scale and in every dimension. Characters should have conflicts and internal lives. Cities must have secret places and bustlingstreets. Environments should be teeming with life and so on. This is especially important if the world has a visual component like video games and movies. The audience may not consciously notice that tube laying next to the spaceship but it sure influences how much they enjoy the world.
The world must have depth. Appearances and an interesting exterior do not make up for a lack of themes and internal substance. Everything must have meaning and depth. There must be layers to characters and events and the audience must not feel like everything is out in the open. Their investment in the world must be rewarded by deeper levels of meaning.
These principles are not self-evident. I will continue to work on them and add more depth to them. They also need to be presented in a more clear and applicable way than they currently are.