1. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    What makes a Interesting Universe?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Fullmetal Xeno, Nov 28, 2011.

    I thought about this and i wanted to see how readers/writers enjoy a universe and what it takes for them to engross in it. I myself likes universes with plenty of back-story, characters and much more. So what does it take to create a interesting universe? This is what i gather from fictional universes.

    Plot- A plot detailed enough to make it a pulse-pounding experience, with plenty of thrills and rememberable events. A plot so developed the Characters feel almost real, real enough to be alive. A plot that sucks you in.

    Characters- Characters from all over the world, your world. Characters who speak different languages while speaking yours. Characters who share many goals to accomplish something far greater then themselves. Characters who are the biggest tools to a decorated world to fulfill.

    Fictional Languages- What makes your world more interesting, fictional languages for your inhabitants to speak in their lands.

    Countries- A world filled with many realms, with all different cultures. What makes your world noticeable.

    Weapons- For certain universes, Weapons that you can imagine that is similar to our world. Or something totally new.

    Politics and Government- The backbone of your world, what drives it to it's state, and so forth.

    Setting- The environment of your world. The part that shakes it up, gives all the color stored into your crafted world.

    Culture- The traditions and routines for your people and certain pieces that builds a foundation for your universe.

    Time- If your universe is different then ours, Time is what makes your World more foreign but more creative.

    Flora and Fauna- This is what surrounds your Setting, what makes your world all the more joyful or scary.

    So, what makes you enjoy a fictional universe? If so, what parts are the most important? If you are building a universe, i hope this narrowed it down a bit. If i don't have every element, i'll make sure to add on more to this thread.
     
  2. Prolixitasty
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    Prolixitasty Member

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    To me, the most important part about any universe is what I will simply refer to as, "the reality selling point." Our universe, at least as we percieve it, exists based on specifc laws of nature which in turn define a set of accepted realities. For example, if I punch a brick wall and I break my hand, there is nothing particularly surprising about that, it's a natural effect of reality. However, if I punch a brick wall and I shatter it into smitherines I am defying reality. If however, you accept that punching holes in brick walls is a reality then the universe changes. We now have a universe wherein punching walls down with our barehands is a plausible and now accepted fact of the universe. Take any universe and you will find that it has a specific selling point which, if the reader accepts it, they may find enjoyment and interest in it. Star Trek assumes the use of Light Speed Technology, The Lord of the Rings assumes that a world exists create by Illuvatar, Transformers assumes the existence of aliens etc. In most cases, it is the uniqueness of that particular "selling point" which defines the "interest level" of any given universe. Ofcourse it isn't that simple. I mean, don't think it is. I'm giving my two cents. To answer your question more directly, the idea of time is of particular interest to me when considering fictional universes. In the end, no matter how bizzare or normal, all fictional stories essentially contain fictional universes.
     
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  3. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess there's a somewhat general divide between what fictional universes capture my imagination and those that bore me. If I feel the author is trying to explain everything to me, as if I had signed up for a history class in his imaginary reality, then I'll phase out fairly quickly and start thinking about other things while my eyes continue travelling across the page, in their own search for the storyline. On the other hand, if I'm thrown into a strange, unknown place where my sense of wonder gets to stand on its toes, and I have to figure things out for myself, then I'm hooked. Too many authors, sadly, think their "magic systems", world lore and political history are things so original and exciting that we have to hear ALL about it, and have to perceive it the SAME way as the author... Somewhat like fiction-writing's answer to fascism. The thing is to allow your readers to dream along, let them have a say in how things should be in the fictional world, by giving their imaginations room to play around. In other words, don't be a control freak -- you'll only lose readers. Well, at least readers like me. I'm going for the fictional worlds that are like sandboxes for my own imagination.
     
  4. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm highly tempted to say, "define brick", just to throw in the philosophy argument. :p This post is so true, though. I look at it a little differently. For me, it's the idea that the story could actually happen that draws me in. I'm not big on fantasy or sci-fi for this reason. Really, I'm good with realistic settings to moderately supernatural settings. By supernatural, I'm not talking vampires or werewolves. I'm talking psychic stuff, like in Carrie, or a hell of a lot of Stephen King's work, in fact.
    At least, these are the circumstances that draw me in best. I can still get into other stuff.

    This absolutely pissed me off about Brave New World. It's made out to be so good, but there's no plot until the end. The whole first half (and then some) is Aldous being all, "Oh look, I made a world and it's cool, you should check it out!"
     
  5. ScreamsfromtheCrematory
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    To be fair, B.N.W. wasn't really intended to be a traditional story narrative as much as a general exposition about a world drowning in its own excesses and the conflict between the past and the present. It's not that "there's no plot until the end" as much as "there's no traditional story-telling direction until the end".

    Anyhoo, for what makes an interesting universe, it's not necessarily "realism", "out of the world-ness", or how it supposedly breaks a pre-supposed mold as much as what the world represents. Anyone can create an aesthetically "weird"/"realistic"/"fantastic" setting but it's harder to create a setting that reflects something about the world we live in and in a way, captures certain aspects of human nature, global-societal issues, philosophical ideas, and so on. It's not necessarily an impossible thing to do; I imagine a lot of us will do this subconsciously or naturally. It's not necessarily to me about "emotionally relating" to a story and its setting as much as finding ideologically interesting or "common" ground that captures something reflected about the real world that surrounds us all.
     
  6. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    The setting is never interesting. The author's reasoning for choosing the setting, however, is.
     
  7. Prolixitasty
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    Prolixitasty Member

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    I don't agree. I don't believe in the authority of the author after a piece is completed. Could you mean that what is interesting is how an author creates and uses a setting for a story? That an author chooses a setting doesn't seem to be as important as how that author uses it, describes it, and brings it life. The fact that they chose it has nothing to do with the value of their work or its effects. It is not so important that I chose to speak but how I chose to speak which will determine your judgement of my words.
     
  8. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    Exactly. It is interesting to see the change in interpretation between what the author writes and what the reader reads. The bad author needs to clarify what they meant by their words, a good author needs to do little, their book's meaning is clear.

    The end product may be cool, the process used to make it is more interesting.
     
  9. Devrokon
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    Devrokon Senior Member

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    Disagree. Was the setting Animal Farm, 1984, Atonement, Jurassic Park, A Farewell to Arms, and Heart of Darkness uninteresting?
     
  10. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    Yes.
    The idea behind each, however, was interesting.
     
  11. AJSmith
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    AJSmith Senior Member

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    I tend to agree with this. I would rather not overtly notice the setting when I read. I want a good sense of it so that I can imagine it clearly as I read, but I want to achieve this understanding through the plot and how the characters interact with the setting.

    That is how I try to write as well, probably because it's what I prefer to read. Unfortunately I often forget that characters' clothing is almost the same way for me as setting. I remember this when I read trough my work and cringe as I come upon a paragraph long clothing description.
     
  12. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    I disagree with this quite strongly. Yes the plot is the most important but the setting can also be interesting. Don't you ever think "wouldn't it be awesome if this world was real, if you could become a wizard or tame dragons or travel the universe." That is thinking the setting is interesting. Sure plot is the main attraction but the setting brings it to life. I'd rather read a story set in a fantasy world than in a series of blank rooms, even if the plot was the same. And with an interesting setting I'd probably be more than happy to read a supplementary book detailing the customs of the world's people's and places etc. without any plot.
     
  13. Prophetsnake
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    Prophetsnake Contributing Member

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    How about one where a major explosion pitches up a single element which is in turn mutated into hundreds of complex substances that in turn form compounds which bond forming huge worlds whirling through an unimaginable vastness. the compounds increase incomplexity until they are waling around spawning weirder and weirder forms lof life until the ultimate weirdness is experienced in the form of a neoconservative at which point the whole thing reverses itself, having seen the error of it's ways.
     
  14. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    huh? That's a pretty big statement.
     
  15. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    Settings are just a back drop. Sure, it would be cool to sip tea with dragons and streak across the universe in a DeLorean while firing lasers at a couple of irritating neighbors, but no - that is not interesting. That's my duller than daily commute.

    Why and how I came to sip tea with dragons while streaking across the universe in a DeLorean and firing lasers at my irritating neighbors - I'd read that. Behind everything - is a story, even the details of a world's people. That story is more interesting than its players.

    Nope. Why it changes, is more interesting. WHY did it change its ways?
    Everything else is boring clutter.
     
  16. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Obviously the story adds interest to the setting but that's not to say the setting is completely dull and uninteresting. To take a real world example G.R.R Martin is planning to release an encyclopedia on the world of ASOIAF. I am looking forward to this very much and would happily read about the customs of westeros and what have you without any story as a backdrop. Now if I'm content to read through this with no plot and pure setting than surely the setting must be interesting. So perhaps you might not care about worldbuilding, but for me and many others it's very important, so I'm afraid you can't make a blanket statement.
     
  17. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    Fixed. :) And now, let me explain a bit. I don't care about the plot and characters. Yes, they are essentical for a story, but I don't think they have anything to do with the setting. Weapons, language, politics and all that is important to the setting, but I don't see it as interesting enough to count. I mean if Gandalf returned with a lightsaber in one hand and a machinegun in the other, it wouldn't necessarily make Lord of the Rings any better or worse. It would be different, yes, but better or worse? That's up for everyone to decide. All in all, I would spend time creating the actual world first, then populate it later. History, legends, langauges, culture and all that is part of the world, but they can come later.

    Think of it as a pyramid (like the Maslow's hierarchy of needs). First, we have the world itself. This has to be perfect to work as a solid fundation. When this is on order, you can start placing other building blocks like the countries or areas, wildlife, flower and fauna, people (human, dwarves, elves etc) and all that as a second step in the fundation. It will naturally rest on the world, so if the world isn't good enough, everything falls apart. The third foundation step is the characters. You have a great world for them to live in, so now you can unleash the characters and let them have fun. And finally, when all that is in place, you can place the top of the pyramid: The story. It should of course be as great as possible, but even if it has weak spots, it doesn't matter as it has the entire rest of the pyramid as support. And besides, when you are done with the story and want to make a sequel, all you have to do is shave off the top (the story) and create a new one. (of course, you would need up update the rest, but you know what I mean.)
     
  18. Monosmith
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    If setting was boring, people wouldn't show up for Renaissance festivals.

    Granted, I think that on the physical level, our desire for a story shapes our fascination with places. A setting within the Grand Canyon could generate a grand story. A setting in a mouse hole implies a small, homely story. A setting in a giant kingdom suggests an equally giant conflict.

    Yet, even with the example of a kingdom, the setting being described is physical. A culture deals with the customs and traditions of the people and is completely different. I think that the lifestyles can catch a person's attention and they'll become interested. Someone like Marco Polo became interested in the new ideas and the practices of the Orient. Some people like Western films because they like the lifestyle and the community of those small towns. Culture is a type of setting that I think truly is interesting in and of itself, without story whatsoever.

    Regarding the depth of the setting, I do prefer it when its roots run deep. I also like it when I get to learn about the setting, because it helps me appreciate better the story going on. I do think that there is room to tell more than necessary, so long as it doesn't distract from the overall direction of the narrative.

    One place where I enjoy learning more is about the laws of the universe, since I believe it can be closely tied to giving the story direction and its believability, as Prolixitasty said. I enjoyed learning more about the Force from Star Wars and magic in Inheritance. Generally, I think it's better with magic, though, instead of science-fiction ideas, since there's enough real-world logic going on that the reader should be able to make their own assumptions, whereas with magic and other things outside of our normal natural world the author operates underneath an invented logic, so for the coherency of the story I think that over the course of time it ought to be explained well enough.

    My favorite type of setting is the fully matured examples of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Both of them display a confidence and comprehensive knowledge of the author for their work. Both were created to fuel the fantasies of their readers/viewers, and made as large as possible to appreciate the scale.

    All the same, I notice that they both practice restraint. Star Wars has a giant history, but almost none of it can be glimpsed from the films. It drops the people into a setting that's already fantastic and allows the audience to accept it right then and there in the present. Yet, for people who are interested, there are many books on the side and other sources that explain in great detail the background stories to characters, the histories of worlds, and the cultures thereof, giving those nerds a full appreciation of the franchise they love.

    This is the type of literature that I am going for at the moment, sprouting from my abiding love of the giant extended canon. I love background stories, politics, and many a new era in many a different world. I love having countless places to visit. I also love having good, evil, and the conflict between the two. I think that all these bring out the best elements of classic fantasy, because this is the storytelling that sprouts from big dreams.

    Monosmith
     

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