How Much Do You Have To Explain About Your Fictional “World” If You Want A Re-Readable Story?

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about worldbuilding and re-readability. But, although this is an article about writing, I’m going to have to spend most of the article looking at stories told through the mediums of film and computer games – mostly because there are two brilliantly contrasting examples that I really want to talk about.

The first is a classic computer game from 2004 called “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“, which I seem to be re-playing at the moment. Despite the fact that I’d started playing another game called “Under A Killing Moon”, I got distracted by re-playing this game:

This is a screenshot from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” (2004). It’s a bit like that “Hotel California” song – you can check out, but you can’t leave…

In addition to being a really interesting mixture of several types of game, one of the most fascinating parts of “Bloodlines” is the incredibly detailed fictional “world” that it takes place in.

Not only does the game have you navigate a secret society of vampires in mid-2000s California, but the game also gives you lots of detailed background information about different types of vampires, different political factions of vampires and many of the game’s characters.

This is another screenshot from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” (2004), showing one of the characters explaining a tiny part of the game’s backstory.

Even the game’s loading screens take the time to explain even more about the fictional “world” of the game. And, I found myself so fascinated that I not only began to replay the game, but I also even ended up spending quite a while looking at fan sites online in order to learn even more about this fascinating fictional world.

In short, this game explains a lot about it’s highly-detailed fictional “world” and it is fascinating enough to make you want to return to it again and again.

By contrast, my favourite film is a sci-fi film from 1982 called “Blade Runner“, which I must have re-watched at least five times. Although there was a sequel last year that expands more on the futuristic “world” of the film, the original film explains relatively little about the world it takes place in.

Yes, we get to hear a bit of basic backstory and we meet a few characters but, for the most part, the film only shows us a relatively small (but visually-dense) part of an absolutely fascinating futuristic world. It’s kind of like the old writing adage of “show, don’t tell“:

This is a screenshot from “Blade Runner” (1982), showing a tiny part of the film’s fascinating setting.

And, yet, this lack of obvious background information is one of the things that makes this film so fascinating. It makes you search for and extrapolate from the film’s many small visual background details, like you are some kind of detective who is looking for clues. This, of course, makes you want to return to the film again and again.

This lack of explanation also means that you have to use your imagination if you want to “see” more of the film’s fictional world. Needless to say, this also makes it an absolutely great source of creative inspiration too.

So, “Blade Runner” and “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” take completely opposite approaches to worldbuilding, and yet they are both the type of thing that just begs to be revisited again and again.

Whilst both approaches to worldbuilding have their merits, one interesting thing to note is that both creative works not only have a detailed (and atmospheric) fictional world but also one that is populated by fascinating and unique characters. So, characterisation is an important part of making your audience want to return to your story.

But, more importantly, both things rely heavily on curiosity. “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” gives the appearance of satisfying the audience’s curiosity, whilst also hinting that there’s a lot more to learn (through brief descriptions of complex things etc..).

On the other hand, “Blade Runner” presents a tantalising glimpse at a fully-formed fictional world and then just says “you’ll have to work it out for yourself“. Both things rely heavily on curiosity in order to make the audience return again and again.

But, I guess that the best lesson to take from all of this is that detailed, complex, unique and imaginative fictional worlds are inherently fascinating things. It doesn’t matter if you explain a lot about them, or explain next to nothing about them. They are fascinating things that will make your audience want to come back again and again.

———–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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