World Building Guides: World Identity

Hello everyone!
  When I talk about what makes a setting interesting, I often talk about what I call world identity. It is a somewhat nebulous term, but something I am aiming to explore in this guide to explain what it is and why it is important for us world-builders. Settings with a strong identity know what they want to be and they know what they are about.   More often than not, it makes them stand out from the rest and it makes them easier to write. The identity helps us by providing a framework by which we know what we want to write about and how it all fits together.  
I will be providing examples from a world that we will make together throughout these guides: for now, lets call it Tensei!

High Concept

High-concept is a type of artistic work that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise. High-concept narratives are typically characterised by an overarching "what if?" scenario that acts as a catalyst for the following events.
  If you had to explain your world to someone with no knowledge of it in a sentence, how would you do it?   The high concept essentially describes something (a game, a movie or a setting) in a short summary, one or two sentences at most. It doesn't have to be a "what if", although they frequently are, but can be anything from a short statement to an evocative flourish; anything that gets the point across. In games, the high concept often summarizes mechanics and story in one.   For our purposes, the high concept is something we construct not only for an external reader but for ourselves. It helps us figure out what kind of world it is we are going to be making and boil it down to its most important elements. A well-defined high concept helps us build a strong world identity. It is important that the high concept sounds interesting to you more than anyone, since you are the one who's going to be writing it.  
For Tensei, our high concept will be: "Tensei is a mythical fantasy world, where Reincarnation is real."   This does a few things for us; 'mythic' is a mood and a feeling, fantasy will be our overall genre, and reincarnation will be a central pillar of this world's identity.
    It is this framework and focus that makes the high concept important. Think of it as a helpful channel for your creativity and a way to help express your ideas to your audience. Always remember that if you change your mind there is nothing stopping you from altering or refining your high concept.  
Chances are you've already made a high concept, even if you might not have thought of it in these terms. Making it a part of your process is only there to help guide your creativity.


  Once the high concept is in place, we can start thinking about what that means for the world we are creating. I like to use questions and I like to think about how it affects people's day to day lives - what does it really mean when Dragons come out of the woodworks every few decades? Questions can be a very powerful world building tool and don't be too surprised if one question just leads to several more. What questions does your high concept raise and how do you answer them? What things do you think is important?  
In our example world, we could ask ourselves what it means for a fantasy society if Reincarnation was real. How does reincarnation work? Is it a sentient force, or uncaring natural law? Can people reincarnate into animals and vice versa? Since it is a fantasy world, how will it inform how magic works? What does it mean for inheritance and hereditary rule?   It raises the question of morality, too. In many religions, you ascend to a higher form by living a righteous life - but who (or what) decides what is righteous and what is not?
  These questions, together with your high concept and overall ideas, will help inform your worlds theme and tone. A high concept can lead to either utopia or dystopia, depending on how you answer those questions. If you feel stuck, don't be afraid to ask a friend or creative partner what they would ask. Others often focus on detail we miss or just don't think about.   The World Anvil discord can be a wonderful place for such an creative exchange, so come on by and say howdy!
Welcome!   Q's Quest for World Building will be where I explore various topics of world building and provide guides to its various aspects. These guides are intended primarily for users who may be new to world building.   If you've ever read an article on World Anvil and wondered how about X, Y or Z, this might be for you!   I'll be taking votes on what to work on next - so stay tuned!


  It's worth considering what you are building a world for. Different projects have different need and it is very easy to fall prey to the World Building Disease.   Worlds made for novels may not need as much minutiae or have every place fleshed out, for instance: the plot and overarching systems in play may be more important.   Of course, many of us here on WorldAnvil worldbuild just because it is fun.      


  I've used some sort of core concept for all of my created worlds so far and they've always helped me. Here are some examples of what that's looked like.    


  What if the surface was a irradiated wasteland and humanity had always just lived deep underground?   That was the first premise of Araea. Not a post-apocalyptic world, but a science-fantasy one with elements of cosmic/lovecraftian horror. It's turned out into a bleak, weird but hopeful world full of nasty things and desperate struggles.    


  A light-hearted dystopia in a cyberpunk-ish world, run by megacorporations taken to an extreme, where brand loyalty runs deeper than blood and the coffee contains military grade combat-drugs. Also, raffleraptors.   The Megacorpolis was the first world that contained references to other works in its core identity; things like Judge Dredd, Transmetropolitan, Shadowrun, Cyberpunk, etc, all featured in the inspirational pot that became this 'light-hearted dystopia'.   Notice that I cheated a little here; it's technically two sentences and not one.   If it helps round out your high concept, don't be afraid to do so but I wouldn't advice going above 3 sentences at very most.    

Necro-Industrial Complex

  What if Necromancy worked, and was industrialized?   What would society look like if we adapted to a world where necromantic magic was not only accepted but an industry?   No lone necromancer in a tower, but factories and butcher-shops that have emptied every graveyard in the world. An industry of magic and death; automation by way of rotting flesh.


  A world's identity is a sum of all the things that make the setting what it is. A world with a strong identity will be more interesting to readers and more focused to work with.   A high concept is a short, evocative summary of the core ideas of the world.   High concepts help build the foundation of a world's identity and help build a framework for our thoughts when we work with the world.   Use your high concept to ask interesting questions about the world and craft interesting articles from the answers.   Have fun and stay hydrated!  

Cover image: by Illahie


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2 Jun, 2020 18:30

Awsome, very helpful, gets the world building thoughts flowing.

Featured Articles in the Shadow War across Creation by Graylion

3 Jun, 2020 10:11

Thank you very much :) Please do let me know if it ended up inspiring anything and show it off :)

Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.