Creating a Story World

Most people start out small by thinking of an interesting story, but try to think bigger and create a story world instead. A story is just about what happens to someone, but a story world defines where that story takes place. In many ways, what makes a novel or movie interesting isn’t just the story, but the world behind the story.

Think of movies like “Avatar” and “Star Wars.” The story is there, but the world behind the story is a huge part of its success. In books like “The Hunger Games” and “A Clockwork Orange,” the story is there too, but there’s also the fascinating world beyond the story.

In “The Hunger Games,” we’re not only following Katniss, the hero, as she tries to survive, but we’re also learning about the oppressive world in which she lives in. America has fallen apart into twelve districts that are kept isolated from each other, but ruled with an iron first from the capitol. As punishment for their rebellion a long time ago, the capitol makes each district offer up tributes to battle to the death on a reality TV show. Even worse, the capitol lives in luxury while the districts live in poverty.

The story of Katniss itself is interesting, but the story world makes hero plight much more interesting because we’re learning about a fascinating world behind the story at the same time. “Star Wars” works the same way by setting the story against the backdrop of an evil empire intent on conquering the galaxy. The story of Luke is interesting, but the story about the world that Luke lives in is just as fascinating.

When creating any story, think beyond your story to create a world in which multiple stories can play out, much like “The Hunger Games” or “Star Wars.” The elements of any story world are:

  • Inherent conflict
  • On the verge of change

Let’s look at “The Hunger Games” since that’s both a movie and a book. Early in the story, we learn that the twelve districts have been subjugated by the capitol that has crushed their rebellion. Now the capitol heavily oppresses the twelve districts and the people in the districts intensely dislike their situation. That’s inherent conflict ready to boil over.

In “Avatar” the humans are already mining the planet and the natives are already upset at the humans. That’s inherent conflict. In “The Hunt for Red October,” the Russians and the Americans are locked in a Cold War. That’s inherent conflict. In “Star Wars,” the evil empire is trying to take over the galaxy and a small band of rebels are fighting back. That’s inherent conflict. If you create your story world with inherent conflict simmering in the background (completely ignoring your hero for now), your story is already primed and ready to take off even before you introduce your hero.

Once you’ve created inherent conflict in your story world, the next step is to push that conflict on the verge of change. This change is what your hero will be instrumental in creating.

In “Star Wars,” the change is that the evil empire needs to wipe out the rebels to complete their conquest of the galaxy. In “The Hunger Games,” the capitol still sees the twelve districts as ready to rebel at any moment. In “Avatar,” the humans are ready to demolish the native’s Home Tree, which the natives believe is sacred. In “The Hunt for Red October,” the Russians have created a powerful new submarine that could tip the balance in favor of whichever side gets it.

Fill your story world with inherent conflict, push that world right on the edge of change, and then introduce your hero as the one who initiates that change.

To create a story world, look at role-playing games like “Dungeons & Dragons,” or “GURPS” (Genetic Universal Role-Playing System). Dungeons & Dragons is especially useful for fantasy stories while GURPS is meant to allow role-playing in any setting from historical and science fiction to horror and contemporary. In either case, you can use role-playing games to help you create a story world. In particular, role-playing games list various features of story worlds so you can quickly pick and choose your particular story world.

Remember, a story world is actually a major part of your story in itself. By first creating a rich story world, you not only make your story background fascinating, but you also create the potential for sequels like “The Hunger Games” or “Star Wars.” If your story world is large enough to encompass multiple stories, you’ll not only have a deep background to enhance your story, but you’ll be able to write several stories using the same story world.

Don’t you think that creating multiple stories out of a single world could be far more profitable than creating a single story?

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