With this installment of Magrathean Diary I’ve come to a turning point. I’ve talked about world-building for a project from a number of different angles—how to look at it, how to organize it—but I haven’t yet said the one thing that’s of most relevance to readers of this site: Why are you creating this world?
Since this is a site devoted to taking one’s geeky aspirations and making them into real-world achievements, I’ll phrase it this way: You’re creating it to be shared.
Everything creative is more interesting, more creative, when it has an audience. There’s little worse for someone of creative aspirations to end up with no audience at all, like Dostoevsky’s Underground Man. The end result of all this research, organization, concentration, sweat and idea-bashing should be a world that other people can enter, too.
Put it this way: The point of creating a world—and a work—that is to be shared by others is to make it not only shared, but shareable. Compulsively so.
All well and good, but what are the hallmarks of something like that? Here’s my rundown:
It should be something immersive. The exact definition of “immersive” is variable, enough so that I plan to devote a whole follow-up post to it. Immersive doesn’t have to mean long, complicated, sprawling or requiring a wiki for the readers/participants to decipher. It just means it provides something, whatever it may be, that an audience will willingly, gleefully submerge itself into not just once but time and again.
It should be something people always want more of. Even if you don’t intend to give them more of that exact thing, but instead want to give them something from an adjacent compartment in your imagination, you should still find a way to make them want it. If you don’t give them more of it, give them more of you.
It should be something people want to go back to and rediscover. Even if the thing never changes, there should be texture and variety and depth to it that compel re-readings. Roger Ebert once wrote lovingly of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita as being a film he rediscovered repeatedly through each phase in his life: in his twenties, it depicted the world he wanted to partake of; in his thirties, the world he was trapped in; in his forties, the world he was grateful to have escaped. Few people could intentionally create a work that evokes such empathy, but it would hardly hurt to try.
It should be something that, whenever possible, offers a view of something new. The hard part is not being so obstinately, uncompromisingly new that no one can get a toehold in it. As lovingly as we might speak now of the work that was decades ahead of its time, such things are cold comfort to the person who’s experiencing the rejection now. It doesn’t hurt to remind yourself that your work ought to be more than just about the time and place it was created in—but it also doesn’t hurt to remember that it will always be the product of a given time, place, and person, and should honor that.
This is why you create a new world: it’s so you can invite all your friends in to play.
There’s scarcely a better reason to go pro, isn’t there?