Wednesday, 22 June 2011

World? What World?

You'd agree with me on this, right? Immersion is a powerful part of any story. It is also too complex and expansive of a subject to pin down in one blog post. So, instead, I thought I'd look at one part of immersion and expand. World building.

Apparently, Hyrule is surrounded by clouds.

See that? That's Hyrule, Ocarina of Time version. For you non-gamers, OoT was released in 1998, the first Legend of Zelda game for a non-handheld platform (the N64). It is still generally agreed upon as one of Nintendo's crowning achievements. Why?
Well, for one, Link is awesome.

Totally awesome

And for second, the world was incredibly immersive for its time. This was a big year for Nintendo, and OoT had to compete against other action adventure games such as Banjo Kazooie, Bomberman, and Gex 64. So how did little Link and his Ocarina of Time do it - and go on to become one of the most respected games in video game history?

Let's break it down.

A) Little Town, Big World

See Kokiri Forest up on that map? It's in the east, and green. That's where the story begins. Why is it such a great place to start?

Reason 1) It's small, but it acts as a peace thermometer. Little effects of the evil going on in Hyrule have a big impact in such a small, peaceful place.

Reason 2) It's isolated, so the player is stuck in Kokiri Forest until he learns the basics of the game and is forced to leave. (Until the reader understands the basics of the world/highschool/universe)

How can we use this in our stories to immerse readers? Start small, but hint at a much bigger picture. In OoT, characters will speak in hushed awe of 'Hyrule Field' as a large and dangerous place. Not an info dump, but the reader gets what you're trying to tell him. Basically, "Big Adventure!"

Your title is author. Your job, as author, is secret keeper.

Almost like an inside joke. Hehe!

B) Give each nation (dungeon) a special flavor

Pretty self-explanatory. Be original, be creative. Legend of Zelda had the difficult job of making 10 different dungeons (11 counting the finale) with the same basic layout feel unique.

How did they do it? The same way authors can.

1) Give the people of the region a history. You don't have to tell the reader all of it - it can get overwhelming if you do - but you should know it. Legends leave whispers, so give the people their legends, and let the readers hear the whispers. A simple way to do this is to write a paragraph (or pages) of exposition, have the natives talk as if they know that exposition, then cut it from the draft.

2) Tie the people to the land. Look up again at that map. The Gerudo in the western desert are survivalists: untrusting, miserly with resources. The Zora in the NE and SW are fish-people, patient and generous because they have so many resources. The Gorons in the NNE get along well with Hyrulians - mostly - because they're surrounded by them.

Wouldn't think geography plays such a heavy affect on physiology, would you?

So if your Queen Bee only eats in the outside patio of the cafeteria, tie her to it in some way. If your heroine eats with the band kids, make her accustomed to flat notes. It creates believability.

That should do it for today - go on, build worlds!
What's the hardest part for you? The easiest? Do you hate this part, or love it?



Marsha Sigman said...

It's actually the hardest for me. I'm good with action, dialogue, and plot but I have to work at world building and descriptions. Maybe I need to pay more attention the world around me.

Jenna Cooper said...

My brother is getting a kick out of the fact that as I writer I can learn from video games. I didn't realize it, but it's true--they have to build a world just like us. Great breakdown and advice! :)

L.G.Smith said...

I think that's part of my problem -- I was never a gamer. I enjoy worldbuilding, but it isn't the all consuming passion for me that it is for other fantasy writers. I'm more of a character driven writer. Worldbuilding is something I really need to develop more.

the late phoenix said...

i'm such a hardcore zelda fan that i find that my world-building is so precise, my imagination so attuned to living in hyrule, that i forget that i live in the real world! :P

Paigeewa said...

I love creating backstories and myths for the worlds I create because that's what I always want to know when I read stories. I love knowing about the characters pasts, so I enjoy writing them for my own characters.

But despite loving it, it's hard because there's always so much of it. Most of the time, it's not good enough to do just the main characters, but you almost tend to have to do most people your characters encounter more than once.

And just, you're awesome for using Hyrule as your example. Link was my first fictional crush!

Janet Johnson said...

Very fun and informative post! Great advice. :)

Backstory can add so much when it's not infodumped in. I like the idea of the author being a secret keeper!

Talli Roland said...

I'm rubbish at world building, so it's a good thing I don't write sci fi!

Thanks for the tips.

Lisa Gail Green said...

Awesome post! World building has always been my weak point actually. Which really means that I've probably worked harder on it than anything else. :D Hopefully it comes through!

Lee Wind said...

I enjoyed this - loved the bit about writing out the exposition, having your characters all know it, then delete it and just keep the 'whispers.' I'll be thinking about that all day! Thanks,

The Golden Eagle said...

I love world-building, actually. Whenever I start a new SF/F project, or any story set in a different world, coming up with the setting is one of my favorite parts of the process. There are so many possibilities! :)

Margo Berendsen said...

Start small - that is great advice for world-building. Lots of great tips here. Perfect timing for me, too, as I am looking at ways to give distinct flavor to three different regions in my "world" !

Anonymous said...

Actually, the original Zelda was the first one on a non-handheld system. It was a NES game.