World-building, it’s what writers do when they flesh out the world in their stories. Stories set in the present and very normal world don’t need to do this since the reader will understand the rules of the world easily enough. It is when the story is set in a ‘galaxy far far away’ or the lands of Middle Earth that this becomes necessary, since the reader will not understand what is going on unless they are taught the rules of this brave new world. To me, it is more important, and sometimes more entertaining than the story itself.
I blame video-games.
I am not going to tell you video-games have stellar stories, a good story in a game can be hard to find. But the one thing that games had that I loved was when they would show me an unbelievable world and let me explore it. What drew me in was the process of learning about the world and its little, almost unnecessary details. How is their world different? How does this difference effect the character? How does it effect the common man? Those things have stuck with me to this very day and still effects how I read stories.
In the end world-building is just asking ‘why’ and ‘how’ over and over again until you have pages upon pages of notes about a sleepy little hamlet in the mountains that no one knows about and might never even read about. I have actually had more fun at times coming up with the world and its details than I would have if I sat down and tried to tell the tale about one hero’s journey through that same world. Just a week ago, I sat down with a friend and over a few drinks we started making up this fantasy world that was different than all the ones we had read. Before long we were scribbling notes about continents, towns, cities, the kinds of people and monsters that inhabited it, and even their political climate. It was a blast.
This brings me to the manga I have been reading lately. To those who don’t know, manga are Japanese comic books. As you may know by now, I am a fan of the novel and the strange. (I already talked about a really weird one here.) So when I heard about a story set in modern Japan but the main character was a centaur, I knew I had to at least read a chapter or two. And so began my trek through ‘Centaur’s Worries’ a modern story about the world if humans never existed and instead creatures that looked like angels, imps, centaurs, and mermaids were the average, everyday citizens.
Enter Hime. She is the teenaged protagonist of this ongoing work of fiction by Kei Murayama. She is your everyday high-school girl who spends time with her friends and worries about her future. She’s also a centaur. What begins as a silly story about cute girls doing cute things starts to take a captivating turn when you realize just how much thought has gone into this world. Everything from racial tensions and anti-racism laws, to simply answering how centaurs could drive cars has been fleshed out. I still distinctly remember a scene in which Hime laments that there are still old buildings that have door-frames too narrow for her even after a law was passed years ago to make houses accessible to all races. That little detail is world-building in a nutshell, and it is because of it that I am impatiently waiting for the next chapter to get translated so I can read more of this world.
To all the writers out there I challenge you to do some world-building of your own. Make up a world on the spot, either contemporary or not, and start adding detail to it. I am sure that when you start you’ll have trouble stopping. To those of you who already share this love I want to hear ways you world-build and the tiny details you add to your worlds.