Jun 8
The Art of World Building

Jeremy Vickery realized this "world" we created when I was on the team at Elevate.

In storytelling, we create worlds as a big picture, but they come to life in the details of people, places, things, and names.

Details Matter

I once staged a play for children set in a theme park. We used large set pieces with animated backdrops featuring the different “lands” of the park. We had elaborate costumes and props for the characters. We even cast several non-speaking roles to fill out the park’s attendees.

Yet, as I was watching a rehearsal, I felt something was missing. I turned to our creative director and said, “I feel like we have all theme and no park.”

We were missing the details. We filled the stage with lamp posts, park benches, churro stands, and trash cans. We also added roller coasters and water rides to the animated backdrops. It took about a day’s work, but by the next rehearsal, the change was dramatic.

The World Is In The Details

World building only really comes together when the details fall into place. I say “fall” like it is unintentional — it is not. It’s the careful choosing of people, places, and things that move not only one story forward but many.

Marvel spent the last ten-plus years mining details from its comics to create the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is a current go-to example of how people, places, and things fill in the background and connect the stories.

You hear about corporations like Stark Industries or Roxxon Oil who are doing something dangerous. You visit places like The Raft (the supervillain prison) and The Avengers Compound (currently under renovation). Marvel also uses real-life examples like the United Nations to provide locations for heroes to encounter each other.

You hear about the Infinity Stones, powerful objects that exist somewhere in the galaxy. You also meet characters like Turk, a common street criminal who never seems to get away with his crimes yet never entirely stays in jail. He’s a convenient source of information for multiple heroes. Combine these details across several stories, and your world begins to take on life.

These locations, objects, and characters come together to create a shared history of your world. They weave a fabric of storytelling that makes your current story more attractive to the listener.

You can find great examples of world building in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Dickens. Tolkien created species and languages to add depth to Middle Earth. Dickens’ Uriah Heep remains one of literature’s most significant villain archetypes.

Find Your Details

Start world building with a big, imaginative idea. Where is it set? In Space? At Sea? In another reality? Once you have the broad strokes, dive deep into the details.

Do you have a backstory? Word building details often emerge if you have a backstory. Whether or not you liked George Lucas’s Star Wars prequel trilogy, it was essential to create the original one.

Find your details in people, places, things, and names, and watch your big, bold world come together.

At TruPlay, we are building some fantastic worlds of our own. If you are a storyteller through game design, art, and narrative, we would love for you to join us.