WorldBuilding questionnaire

October 24, 2020 garrison ims228, worldbuilding 10 minutes, 42 seconds

Here's a series of questions to ponder before we meet during the next couple of weeks.

Read each question, think about the examples, and try to answer the questions as best you can. Jot your answers down, put them into an email, and send it to me just before we meet. It may help us better to cover your material.


I have reproduced the document (below). It is exactly the same as the PDF (above).

Built-Worlds review questions

Please think about each of these questions, then jot down answers to them. Where possible, provide an example, or a picture from your process book. It will make our conversation more productive! Send it to me, via email, before we meet this week or next.

Target Audience / Target Media

We've not dealt carefully with audience yet, but you should have a broad sense of (1) for whom you're building the world; and (2) in what form(s) they are most likely to encounter it. We're not discounting the possibility of massive franchi$e right$, of course, but start small.

Example: Young adult audience, pitched primarily to young women in the form of an online Alternate Reality game; adults, backdrop to be incorporated in indie video game; women, 32-52, series of hidden item puzzles on an iphone app. (Some of those may be unappealing to you, but recall that our task is to think bigly about world building).

The Situation

How is your world situated in relation to This World? Is it part of the past or the present moment in this world? Is it part of the future? Is it part of a different world altogether? This should be reasonably clear in your mind.

Example: Many of the Star Trek movies are very clear from the opening titles: ST2, for example, begins "In the 23rd Century...". At one point, while time traveling back to the 1980's to save a humpback whale (stick with me here), Kirk goes on a date with a Marine Biologist, who rapidly becomes skeptical of his story. "Wait, don't tell me, you're from outer space." To which Kirk replies (here's the payoff!) "No, I'm from Iowa. I only work in outer space." All of which suggests that Star Trek is, more or less, This World, a couple centuries from now.

From This World to Yours

What are the main systems (not events) in your world that are like the ones we have in This World, but are probably at least a little bit different. This can become a lengthier list, so just pick the most important one or two.

Example: In the BuiltWorld of the tri-partite Star Wars trilogy (1977-), the notion of the Force and the Jedi Knights seem like elements of Eastern philosophy (Taoism), Western feudalism (codes of chivalry), and American faith in the Self.

Example: In Game of Thrones, we see a vaguely medieval world where iron and steel are common-place, but the printing press seems unheard of and gun-powder remains unknown. Also, magic seems to be a thing. Plus zombies. Which weren't really a problem until the Rennaissance.

Example: In Alien (and a few of the sequels) the ship's crew clearly depends on their employer for their well-being. They talk frequently about earning shares, and are fearful of being denied their due. Their relationship is made even more vivid by the revelation, later in the film, that the company has decided that they are expendible (spoiler alert!). This dangerous relationship recalls practices (now mostly illegal) where "company stores" would subsidize employees involved in dangerous work, with the promise of tremendous compensation upon completion (and once these accrued debts to the company had been paid). But the compensation was seldom great, and if these employees survived, they typically owed more than they'd earned.

From Other Worlds to Yours

Are there elements from other Built Worlds you might borrow? Alternatively, are there elements from other Built Worlds you'll do your best to avoid altogether?

Example: Star Wars (1977-etc) features R2D2, a compact little droid with a surprising amount of character. Among the other influences, the green/SF film, Silent Running (1972, Douglas Trumbull). Silent Running features cute, non-anthropomorphic compact droids Huey and Dewey, who care for one another and tend to the greens aboard the space ship.

Example: R2D2 was, in turn, copied by every SF film for decades. Disney's The Black Hole (1979) featured B.O.B. and V.I.N.C.E.N.T., whose names are ridiculous, but who were more memorable by far than their human counterparts in that film.

From Other Worlds' Media to Yours

This is a bit more specific, and may be hard to answer, but give it some thought. World-builders are almost always big fans of other built-worlds... and they spend a lot of time thinking about who builds worlds well, and how. Are there specific approaches to the process of World-Building that other BuiltWorlds take, and from which you may borrow?

Example: George Lucas loved old movies and early 20th Century film culture. You can find cinematic references to Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress, and The Guns of Navarrone littered throughout Star Wars. The screen crawls that start every Star Wars film are a reminder of the days of film serials.

Example: Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (in one version, at least) used the film-noir style voiceover, so prominent in movies like Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, 1950) and The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1945), and often associated with pulp detective shows like Micky Spillane's Mike Hammer (ca. 1980's). Most of the voiceover was removed by Scott in his Director's Cut of the film.


Are there specific emotional reactions that you are hoping to provoke in your VRGs? Are there moments of discovery, solution, setback, etc., that you foresee building into your world, because those moments feel very important to you?

Example: The moment in the Wizard of Oz where everything goes from black and white to color is dazzling not just to the character Dorothy, but (especially) to early film audiences who had never seen color film before.

Example: A space-monster-themed attraction at Disney Florida, ca. 1995-2002. The fairly compelling "ride" was called the "ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter" -- which, OK, was a really bad title, but the experience was good. It involved participants (maybe two dozen at a time) sitting in a circle facing inwards. The seats included binaural audio at the ears, rumblers, and a few hidden air and water (!) hoses, especially around the guests' exposed necks. The genius of the experience was the "theater in the round" approach -- which seemed lame -- but which meant that the (genuine) screams of fright or complaint that the effects elicited from one participant after another contributed to overall sense of dread. As is often the case: Hearing people scream on TV is one thing. Hearing genuine screams in real life is something you never forget.

Portfolio Stand-Out

Building a living world is a time-intensive goal that often includes several contributors over a year or more. We're experimenting with different aspects of this process. But one of the things we want to focus on, in the end, is outcome: Taking something from your process book or our assignments, we'll build out a page for your portfolio that will focus on what you've created. It should be about process as much as product, so being able to trace an idea from one stage to the next, etc., will be very useful.

We've still got several exercises to get through, but for now: Reflect on the material you've catalogued in your process book, sketches you've made, maps and artifacts described, and so on: Is there something that seems like an especially interesting focus for a page in your Portfolio?