The Golden Rule of Worldbuilding

Our Lord he has been building.
Let’s hope it’s not a fad.
Foreboding, dark and heinous,
it’s quite the evil pad!

Greetings blogosphere and welcome to this new edition of Worldbuilder,

last time, we went over a couple of methods and set up a plan to help us get started on building our first world. Today, we’re gonna go over a few basic elements in regards to the design of certain worlds.

Most notably, I wanted to introduce you to what I will henceforth refer to as:

The Golden Rule of Worldbuilding

Like most of the fundamental laws that governs certain fields, this axiom isn’t something extremely difficult to understand. The golden rule of worldbuilding, is an implicit contract passed between you and your intended audience when you first start laying down the foundation of your fictional setting. Essentially, what this contract says is that unless specified otherwise, everything inside your world is assumed to behave exactly as it would in the real world.

A good example of that is something that one of the figureheads of the Champions Universe, Steven S. Long, taught me when I was still taking part in the Champions Online community. Basically, and I’m just paraphrasing here, he told us that unless stated otherwise :

Everything that happened in the real world has also unfolded in the exact same way in the Champions Universe.

So what does this mean, exactly?

Well, that as far as we know, Barrack Obama is still president of the United States of America (early 2012), that regular people still eat, work, go to sleep, etc… with the exception that some of them might look a little more super while doing it. Similarly, within the Champions Universe, the city of Detroit was destroyed back in 1992 and that Millennium City now stands atop the debris left by Dr. Destroyer’s orbital cannon. But aside from that, one could most likely assume that just about anything else remains unchanged.

So the second you make any choices that somehow upset that statu quo, you are essentially asking your audience to suspend their disbelief and submit themselves to your rules in exchange for making them have a good time. That’s what the golden rule of worldbuilding is all about.

On the other hand, you might wonder, if you are going to be building a medieval fantasy world or something along the line of Science Fiction, how does this principle applies to your own world?

The answer is, that you are generally expected to work within the boundaries of the genre that you have chosen to adopt while making your world. No one is gonna question you if people are carrying swords, bows or even fighting dragons in a fantasy setting. Much like nobody will raise an eyebrow if your high-tech fictional universe is filled with aliens and impossible technologies.

With that out of the way, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t accountable to some degree based on what you are doing. For instance, if you claim that your world follows the pre-established laws of the Steampunk genre, then your intended audience might expect to encounter some measure of steam-powered machinery and bizarre technologies. Just like we saw glimpses of the first IPads in Minority Report.

That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your world has to follow the rules of any one of those genres to the letter or any of them at all really. After all, the corollary of the golden rule of worldbuilding is that in the end, it’s your world. But that also means that you don’t necessarily have to come up with new vegetation, living organisms or natural constructs for your new world. Because let’s face it, having to build an entirely new world would be a giant pain to do and therefore the golden rule allows us to cut corners with mountainous areas, humans, wheels and wolves to focus on what’s really important to us.

It’s a good thing to keep in mind, don’t you think?

More on that later, stay tuned!

Simon Provencher

Copyright Simon Provencher – 2012
All rights reserved.

One comment

  1. The World Conception blog’s author Knichtus, has recently published an article which discusses the Golden Rule of Worldbuilding covered in the above article. I strongly urge you to check it out.

    * This comment has been edited by the article’s author in order improve clarity. *

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