WB Video II: The Fantastic Number Four


Everybody’s different

In my first video on world-building I promised to share my four-step method on how to world-build. In this episode I fulfill that promise, but in making it I quickly realized that MY way was only a tiny sample of the MANY ways you can world-build.

So I decided to get ambitious. Very ambitious. FOUR TIMES as ambitious, in fact!

I contacted several of the greatest world-builders in webcomics that I knew, and many of them were kind enough to share their thoughts. The answers were so good, that they simply couldn’t be contained in a single video, so if you want the FULL story, you can read all of their responses in full below.

The Creators

Travis Hanson – The Bean
Kambrea & Thom Pratt – ShadowBinders
Cihan Sesen – SPINE

THANK YOU SO MUCH to the storytellers for contributing to this project!!

Travis Hansen – The Bean

1. When you began world-building, what did you start with, and why?

I actually started with the story first and stuck it an inn in the middle of nowhere. I felt I had a good idea and created a conflict for them to dwell in. As the story grew out of a little inn, in the middle of a forest I let world grow with it. By letting the first location be the doorway to my world I realized that once I left the inn I could let the characters and myself start to explore the surroundings. This made it easy to build a world around the inn. It didn’t overwhelm either and I didn’t feel the need to have to explore the whole continent first and catalog every little location, place and political/religious structure. I did though research out life in an old world inn and a dinner and combined them. I fleshed out the current location first.

But I also treat the world as a character itself. It is just as alive as the other characters. That is important to me and it allows me to put creatures in environments without having to name them yet.

2. How would you describe your process?

A lot of research at times. I read a lot of national geographic, encyclopedias, history books, the news and survival guides. I think gaining knowledge makes it easier to help you come up with thing. I found that by understanding how certain regions work in our world, for instance forest and their ecosystems, that as I entered a forest I could take that knowledge and tweak it to fit my own world.

I also have a lot of sketchbooks, where I constantly doodle the world around me. Yet my main focus when i world build is where I am at in the story. This keeps me on track. I build my world as I move along.

3. What part of world-building is easiest for you? Why?

Creating the underground world in my realm. Because I mash many different cultures together that have been buried for many years. It allows one to be in fantastic places and I feel little constraints when I draw them. I also love drawing environments and learned at an early stage in my career to remember that trees, floral, people are very very diverse.

4. What do you struggle with the most? How have you overcome the more challenging aspects?

Different Cultures. I want my cultures to be unique and even though I write fantasy, I try really hard to break the cliche’. This also means as I draw each race and culture within my world, I need to make them different and unique. This drives me nuts as I try really hard to give each society a different flare, yet still have some continuity to help the reader figure out where they are.

5. How do you balance building your world with sharing your story? What details do you intentionally leave out or include?

Since I build my world around my story, I let it create itself to a degree. There is a lot that i intentionally leave out written wise, but show visually. It is important that the reader gets a chance to explore my world as my characters do. As a character learns about his surroundings so does the reader.

6. What kinds of research and reference would you recommend to others?

Just research out environments first and social structures first. I love national geographic, historical books, even the news lets me see how things work. If your world evolves around cities, study city planning. See how cluttered cities work. You can do research and still create your story. If you your story revolves around survival in a dangerous setting… than pick up a survival guide and read it. Learn how people interact with their world and each other to survive and then let those experiences ebb their way into your story. Most important is just tell the story first and then build the world around it.

7. What one tip would you give to someone that’s never built their own world before?

To have fun and take it one location at a time. It’s ok to be unique but still root it in something that could be realistic.

Kambrea & Thom Pratt – Shadowbinders

1. When you began world-building, what did you start with, and why?
We started with the idea that it would be interesting to have a story that took place in two different worlds, one being our own. I knew we wanted to include some steampunk and fantasy elements that we both love. Thom had the original idea for a story called Shadowbinders years ago. It was a very different story, but we took the title and some elements of the world he created and merged it with my ideas to create a rough idea of what Belatyr was like.

2. How would you describe your process?

We have a framework of where we want the story to go. We know the main plot points and some basic “rules” for world. We knew there were 4 kingdoms and what they basically were, but that was it. Our story is very character driven, so our world evolves as a background and prop for the characters. We make up a lot of things as we go along, but within the boundaries we set.

3. What part of world-building is easiest for you? Why?

Visually, Thom likes to design mechanical objects and that works well in our steamfantasy setting. Airships, goggles, robots, etc. From a writing stand point, I like coming up with fun ideas for Thom to create, like a steampunk pirate ship.

4. What do you struggle with the most? How have you overcome the more challenging aspects?
So far it hasn’t been too bad. The hardest part for me is coming up with names for places or things. I want unusual, otherworldly, names, and I want them to fit and flow. That can be a challenge.

5. How do you balance building your world with sharing your story? What details do you intentionally leave out or include?
We have some large story arcs. Throughout the story we have provided clues and planned events to push those arcs forward. When they are revealed the readers will be able to see that. We also listen to the readers. For example, when they wanted more information about characters, we wrote that into the story.

6. What kinds of research and reference would you recommend to others?
Research the genre you choose. Meaning, read other works based in worlds like your genre. Watch movies, anime, etc. that are based on your genre. It does help to understand and clarify ideas. Having some basis in reality makes it more “real” to people as well. If it is completely alien or completely fantastic it would be harder to believe.

7. What one tip would you give to someone that’s never built their own world before?

It’s your world, make it as complicated or as simple as you like, just have fun doing it!

Cihan Sesen – SPINE

1. When you began world-building, what did you start with, and why?
I was always intrigued with stories that provide criticism of the contemporary culture by using another world as an allegory. Whether this other world is set in science fiction, fantasy, fable, steampunk or cyberpunk doesn’t matter to me as much as its metaphor of us.

I had this idea at the back of my mind when I was creating SPINE: “What if we all disappeared right now and left our junk where they are.” Our cars on the highways, our clothes in the wardrobes, our money in ATMs. Then some aliens came down to earth and see all that stuff. What would they think of all our junk? Our rockets, our tanks, our books, our money, our hamburgers, our trash, our neutered dogs, our dying earth. Would they think we were barbarians? Pests? Would they think we were civilized? I wanted to adapt that idea to SPINE, without the aliens. That idea seemed really important to me. Here is a world that can provide a hidden, yet direct meaning to what we are doing to this earth. I don’t see a bright future for us if everything goes as its going right now. I feel as if we are crash test dummies in a very fast car heading for oblivion. Unless, we change how we live – there won’t be a place to live in. SPINE came out of that idea where we destroyed our way of life, by just living it. Yet, people somehow survive and now they have to struggle through the same challenges. Will they learn from the past? Will they even know about the past? or care for it? How much do we care about the past ourselves? These are the questions I try to answer to figure out how SPINE’s world would work.

2. How would you describe your process?
You know, there are a lot of things in a world: the landscape, the sky, the temperature, the wildlife, the humanity, the politics, the religions, the technology, the relationships; and they are all interconnected. It’s a really taxing job to do it right, and to do it alone.

At first, I thought I had to create my own method from scratch, but others have done this before, and there are great, tested and true ways of creating worlds. I turned to what I knew best, and that is my experiences as a Dungeon Master when I was fourteen. The Forgotten Realms is an amazing, and comprehensive tome of this world called Faerun. I thought “if I can re-write that type of thing for SPINE – I’m done.” That’s not exactly how it went down, because I’m not writing a gaming manual – I’m writing a story, but the basics were there. By mixing elements from other great fantasy and science fiction worlds, SPINE was born and by mixing several methods, I ended up creating my own method.

I started with a map. First, let’s see what this world looks like. I found a large scale topographical map of the world, then raised the water level by 10 meters. That changed the map quite a bit. Then, I made several versions of this map, a political map, a topographical map, then a what I call: Hybrid animals map. There are more than just rhinowhales. Once the map was done, I wrote a page about every single nation and interwove their stories, and the background was done. Now, we have a map with nations and animals, it’s time for people. There are millions of people in a world! I didn’t want to take the time to write-up everyone, it’s a waste of time – instead I created a method to create characters. It could be seen similar to a DnD Character sheet – yet, they are quite different. It is directly for creating fictional characters, with their goals and personalities in mind. The advantage is that, I can randomly create millions of characters within minutes using this method.

We got maps, politics and people. Then I write the story. On top of that. However there are times, when I want to lose control and have the story take it’s course. I roll dice. It makes action a lot faster, more fun, and taking a bit of control away from me creates opportunity. For instance, SPINE’s first parachuting scene in Chapter 3. I wanted her to get to her objective through an oil pit. She was going to land somewhere, and I decided to have some fun. I was rolling dice to determine, how she landed: (d20) rolled a 8. She didn’t get hurt, but she did land on snow with her head first, loud and clumsy. She alerted the main guards who rolled spot checks: (d20) they all passed. The guards failed their dodge checks and got hit by SPINE’s parachute. This gives them a pretty sad penalty to their initiative: (-9). SPINE and the thugs roll initiative: (d20) Spine stayed in character and rolled a whopping 18, yet she failed her attack roll with a 1. I was pretty upset. She slipped on the parachute and fell down without stabbing anyone that time.

3. What part of world-building is easiest for you? Why?
I would say map making, and flags were the easiest and the most fun, parts of worldbuilding because I still got to draw!
Now, our flags are simple shapes and colors. I thought, “in the future – they probably won’t be able to create color as easily” and made all their flags in black and white shapes. Dinion Alliance being the exception, they had lots of excessive purple clothes.

4. What do you struggle with the most? How have you overcome the more challenging aspects?
I struggle with politics between nations, and relationships between people and religion the most. They are so complex. This is often where I ask the help of my friends, such as Paul Waddell and Justin Holmes. They provide great insight, with relevant examples. SPINE is mainly an espionage, cold-war type of story. Watching spy movies, reading coldwar stories really helps. Lately, my favorite was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. There are a lot of other great stories, and documentaries. Another favorite of mine is One Minute to Midnight. There is a common feeling with all these stories that I was drawn to. Everything could end in moments. The world was about to end, and everyone is trying to be the person on top of the ashes.

I need to capture that feeling for SPINE: Being on top at the end of the world. It’s lunacy, but it’s how people are. I believe that touches on religion. We believe there is another world at the end which matters more, so we treat this one like dirt. In many cases, religion can define who we are. I decided to turn the tables on religion and created a world where hardly anyone believes in God. The idea itself is almost abolished. The accepted philosophy is that we are all children of the Universe, and the Unknown. The worshipers, and the believers are a minority. This switch alone, changes how society works, yet shows how similar we are in our willingness to oppress one another.

5. How do you balance building your world with sharing your story? What details do you intentionally leave out or include?
As I mentioned above, this is an espionage story. Which makes it really hard to decide what gets to go to the chapters, and what stays with me. It’s like dealing cards, can’t show everything all at once – yet, if I don’t show enough, there’s no story, no game. I believe I made a mistake of not showing enough the first time around. When I wrote Chapter 2 the first time, there wasn’t much explanation of what’s going on, because it was all secrets – like the British Secret Service. Yet, I didn’t want to leave the readers in complete darkness. I didn’t like it. So, I went in and completely changed The Kitchen scene in Chapter 2. Now, each character shares what they know, putting all their cards on the table. They are discussing their future. I think this is better, because there are still a lot of unknowns anyway. There are two other factions, with their meetings and their cards that are not shown.

I make a conscious decision to pick a side and follow SPINE, Z and Visrian. It’s their story, and that how I will be filtering what goes to the books, and what goes to the appendix.

6. What kinds of research and reference would you recommend to others?

Try to look at everything objectively, and dissect the elements of what makes the world we live in today. Figure out why people do what they do. All the things you need to reference from are in this world. Observe, and analyze everything. Be intelligent about the data you collect and combine it in your art.

7. What one tip would you give to someone that’s never built their own world before?
In order to see what your house looks like, you need to get outside of it and see it from the outside and compare it to other houses to see what’s different and unique about yours. Meaning, it helps to disconnect completely and experience interactive worlds. Play great RPGs! They helped me a lot. If you don’t have a DnD gang, I would invest in games like Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Ahm.

Finally, the most important part: Ask yourself why. Most great stories that are built around other worlds were written to criticize contemporary society. What do you have to say about our lives that is so important, that you need to take us away from it to tell us?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Posted in Featured News, Helpful Hints, Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , .

4 Comments

  1. I finally got around to watching this (as a positive method of procrastinating on writing today’s 1000 words). Excellent video. I enjoyed the different creators’ insights and it was really well edited.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.