Welcome back to the Orator. We’ve discussed what makes stories important, and the first thing to be aware of before you begin your own tale. Now we can talk about where a tale truly begins, or at least where I like to start them.
Some writers begin to approach their own tales with a specific story in mind. They know where it starts, and where they want it to end. They come up with their protagonist, or hero, and an antagonist, or villain. They plan a journey for their characters, who they are and who they will become. A popular method that works for this type of writing is called the Snowflake method. With the snowflake method, you start with the beginning, and the end of your story. Then come up with the middle point between the beginning and the end. Then come up with two points that connect those, growing your tale like the fractile of a snowflake. Though, this method is a bit further down the line in my story building process. I prefer to imagine the setting a story takes place in. Where the tale itself begins.
The tales I craft, and the ones we craft on the show always begin with a setting, a place where the story happens. Every memorable story in my life is attached to some magnificent place in a fantasy world. I always remember the web filled forest where Sam and Frodo do battle with the great spider in lord of the rings, or the winding labyrinthine vaults of gringotts from the Harry Potter series. When I think of the stories I love the first thing to enter my mind is an image of a place. In my experience, a place is pivotal to creating an engaging, and believable story, for a novel, a television show, or a role playing tabletop game. A story always begins somewhere.
Building a convincing setting with depth is no easy task. When building a convincing tale I begin with a single line that paints a picture in your imagination.
"A city of stone, bursting with life and color, built atop a living maze.”
From there, the setting development begins with a simple game of questions. “How does the maze benefit the city?” Then. I take a moment to answer that question, with enough detail that more questions can arise.
"In a high fantasy world, many adventurers would seek treasures within..."
The game continues with yet another question.
"What, or who would encourage them to risk their lives to explore it?"
Each question probes deeper, and deeper into the setting you are building, allowing you to layer detail upon detail within this place until it starts to feel like a real place. Each answer builds out your setting, much like a snowflake.
"A guild, the venture association, turns the maze delving into a sport." This process has helped me design and build many different settings in the world of Asperran. Every town, every valley and every facet of the world undergoes this development process. The setting I built with the questions above is a taste of a City in my setting called New Bismuth. It’s a city of artisans, adventurers, hidden criminal organizations. Here, every few months, a cultural phenomenon called the Plunge enthralls the adventurers of the city as they take compete for the grand prize within the infinite maze. They climb down a deep and dark pit into the center of the city as they fight monsters, traps, and their fellow adventurers to win the grand prize. All of which is sponsored by the grand and noble venture association.
From one single sentence, you can build an engaging world that has believable circumstances, consequences and reactions to the people who live in it, ultimately making something more engaging and interesting for their audience, or your players. You can think of your setting as its own character that you should breathe life into, figuratively, or literally.
Asking yourself questions about the place you are building creates an exponential web of detail for you and your audience to explore. Every new question brings to light another incredible facet of this setting you are building, and brings yet another character trait. Now that you’ve asked yourself come questions about your setting, this wonderful living character you have created, what’s next?
At this step you have been the sole hand responsible for this world’s creation. You have spend time, days, weeks, months designing and imagining your setting. There are small details about this place that you have come to love, and truly understand. This is the most dangerous place to be for the creation of a setting, because everything makes sense to the person building the setting. There are details, or questions that have slipped past you without your notice. At this point, an outside perspective is needed. When I find myself comfortable with my setting, or world, I go to my friends, or other storytellers and ask their opinion. I encourage them to ask questions about it. As writers, and creators, we all tend to feel defensive or protective of our ideas. We worry people won’t love them as much as we do, or that someone may criticize them. This tends to be the most vulnerable place to be as a creator.
Though, the truth behind the greatest tales and stories is that they are a product of many hands, and minds. My next piece of advice may be hard to swallow for someone who is just beginning to weave their own tales and stories. Share your ideas.
I say this because friends, and other creative people will ask you questions about your ideas. Listen to those questions, and always take note of them. They will ask the questions you may have already answered, or questions you haven’t even thought of. If you go through this process with friends, then return to your own game of questions your settings will be the best that it can be. It will be the perfect place for your tale to begin.