Wednesday, September 22, 2010

World Building, Part 3: Hybrid Design

aka You Did It Your Way, I Did It Sideways

(You can thank Johnny Yune for that quote)

In part 1 of my World Building series, I talked about constructing a fantasy world from the Top-Down, starting with a million-mile view and zooming down to the continents, the countries, the cultures, economies, and so on.

In part 2, I talked about constructing a science fiction universe from the Bottom-Up, starting with people and their stories, then hanging a framework on top of that to support the plot.

Both methods have advantages and drawbacks, and depending on what you are trying to create you may be perfectly fine with one or the other. I created a fantasy world using a purely Top-Down design, but I ran into problems when trying to create a science fiction universe with a purely Bottom-Up design.

What I learned from these two lessons is that, sometimes, the best solution is both solutions.

Such is the case when creating an entire universe for stories to take place in. I often find myself in the Bottom-Up Terran Shift universe employing a Top-Down mentality to design individual worlds.

Suppose you have your main character land on a new planet and you have nothing planned in advance for it. The problem is that by moving your mindset to this new world, stretching out from your home base (Earth, in my case), you have essentially just shifted from Bottom-Up (your universe) to Top-Down (looking at the new planet). It's easy to look at a planet like Mars and say "by 2250 we'll have three million colonists living on Mars." But how are they living? Where? What are they doing there and what were their motivations? You could solve this by staying with a Bottom-Up design, shifting your mindset to Mars at the time the first humans walk on its surface, and building the story of the world from there. But that may take quite a while to develop.

In my case, I decided we will expand to bases on Mars, and then I switched to Top-Down mode. I developed the military and civilian social structures on the planet and began planning out the individual bases. I pulled out NASA maps and figured out logical placements for colonies. I read books like Zubrin's The Case For Mars for ideas on how terraforming would be done and what would be needed to make it happen. Once I had enough structure in place for my story ideas, I switched back to Bottom-Up mode and figured out the next plot points to work on.

Such is the way with many things in life - the hybrid of two good systems can often be more powerful and intuitive than either individual system on its own. So far I have found no drawbacks with this hybrid method, and am inclined to believe that switching between these two design methodologies as needed is the best way to create worlds. Your results may vary, but hopefully this series has given you some things to think about and a new way to approach the design of your world.

So you've started building your world or universe... what else is needed?

In part 4 of this series, I'll discuss some ideas for bringing your world to life.