Story World Construction

I consult with a lot of brands, studios, and indie creators about their story worlds. Many of them have the same basic questions, and others want an easier guide to building out the details of their world. Well, look no further! In these episodes of Building a Better Story World, I give you a series of exercises and prompts to help you craft better and more intricately constructed elements of your narrative universe!

How To Create Better Openings – Using the works of Hayao Miyazaki, I showcase how you can create better first impressions for your characters, plot, theme, and more!

Secondary Character Creation – With the world of the Simpsons as an example, you can delve into how to create more compelling (and agented) secondary characters, as well as more memorable tertiary characters with room for growth!

Creating Interesting Locales – Locales have archetypes as well as characters, so if you’re struggling with ways to create realms that spark your audiences’ imaginations, take a trip with me (and the cast of Deep Space Nine) as we explore the six major kinds of locations in your story world!

Building out the Chronology of Narrative Universes – Your universe existed before your main characters got there and will persist long after they shuffle off their mortal coil, so you better build self-contained eras in your chronology in order for audiences to understand them. Just ask Marty and Doc Brown!

Building Your Mythology – The big magilla: how to create your own story world mythology! Using all the elements we’ve detailed, this is a handy-dandy guide for one way to create a document that houses all of your story universe’s various rules, characters, and more!

With Apologies to Nike…

…Just Do It

If any of you listen to How Did This Get Made?, you’ll be more than familiar with the film above. Directed by James Niebauer, starring Gabrielle Niebauer, and produced, financed, and crewed/acted by numerous friends and family, it has been roundly mocked as the next The Room. You can find it for free on Amazon if you have a Prime subscription so you can make your own assessment, but before we go any further, I want you all to watch this trailer and marvel:

Watch Governor Gabbi Online | Vimeo On Demand on Vimeo

Now, you may be thinking that I’m going to jump in with the chorus and mock this flick. Far from it. In fact, if you have ever wanted to make it in the film industry, I would recommend you study this film and its creator. Were there mistakes made? Sure. But I can highlight dozens of multi-million dollar supposedblockbusters” that made just as many mistakes, tanked, ruined studios, caused controversy, or otherwise were massive disappointments. All of those were made by supposed “seasoned pros” backed by “smart money” who “knew what it took” to make it in Hollywood (whatever that means). Even the best filmmakers lay a stinker every once in a while.

The point here isn’t to mock those filmmakers, or the Niebauers for that matter. I’ll admit, it’s all fun and games when you log on to RiffTrax or stream Mystery Science Theater or download the latest episode of Jason, Paul, and June’s podcast…

Let’s be real; this is a masterpiece of humor.

…but if you’re struggling but serious about making art, of creating film, of writing the next big thing, of getting your vision out into the world, I want you to reevaluate just a bit.

What’s the difference between you and those filmmakers listed above?

They went out.

And.

Got.

It.

Done.

Unfortunately.

Take this from James Niebauer’s IMDB page, when he was speaking about his film Heart KPop: “When interviewed about this film, Niebauer mentioned that the film was completed on an “indie” budget and rather than with the goal of making it big off of the film, the young director and cast were most interested in building their knowledge of film production.”

That is, the Niebauers and their allies didn’t expect to make it big. They didn’t expect this to be a smash hit on the indie scene and win them oodles of awards. That wasn’t the point. They understood that they were still learning and had a ways to go. But rather than focusing on theory and dreaming, they got together to actually make something. There will be those of you reading this who will go their entire lives dreaming of making a feature film and never getting their; James and Gabbi Niebauer, et al, will never be those kinds of people.

And speaking of “people,” it’s critical to understand that the Niebauers didn’t do this alone. They surrounded themselves with doers. The talent level varied, but guess what? So too does it out in the regular industry. You saw all those box-office bombs linked above. A lot of people on those sets took their work seriously, and a lot of people phoned it in. All of them went out and proved themselves beforehand.

Like the Niebauers, I want you to surround yourself with do-ers. Instead of staying up late and re-watching the entirety of The Office for the tenth time, schedule a session with some potential collaborators to talk through pitches. Instead of getting drunk and watching the game, get drunk at a writer’s group. Make groups. Make dates. Make art. But if you want to “make it,” you’ve got to actually make it, whatever that it is.

In that light, I want you to consider Governor Gabbi and other Niebauer works.

Instead of dreaming about it, do it.

Instead of getting writer’s jealousy, build your craft.

Instead of “putting it off,” create a plan.

No. Seriously. Do it. Create a plan. Right now. You want help? I’m here for you.

  1. What is one aspect of production that you can bring to increase its value? That is, does your aunt have a cabin way out in the woods where you can shoot? Does your grandfather own a vintage restored car that you may be able to borrow? Do you work at a convenience store where you can film overnight?
  2. How can you get people excited to work on your film for next to nothing? Maybe you’ll promise to work on their own production, in-kind. Perhaps you’ll hire a cadre of their friends/family/allies to bring costs down. Or possibly you’ll raid the local university and pay people in experience on set.
  3. What is one other way that you can keep costs down? You could do worse than look for grants based on your personage. Maybe you could cast your crew in the film, or else have your cast work the equipment when not on screen (a big’un in today’s limited-crew Covid environment). I’d also recommend shooting a proof-of-concept short film that won’t tie you down in cost or time but will potentially get you interest from financiers and other backers.

Or maybe you’re a narrative-first person and you can’t conceive of a plan until you get the story down. That’s fine, too! Consider these prompts:

  1. No more than six primary actors. Fewer checks, fewer schedule conflicts, fewer mouths to feed… but more focus on interpersonal conflict!
  2. No more than one location (meaning one principal locale, outdoor and indoor, where you’ll be filming), perhaps with some pick-ups at other locations to help mask this. Still, you’d be surprised how many angles you can get to make your film seem bigger.
  3. No more than 90 pages of a script. Keeping it short, simple, and to the point will be cheaper AND force you to think about what’s really important in your narrative.
  4. A high-concept idea that can sell the film easily: two people try to escape across monster-infested desert.

As you can see, many, many, many people have crafted compelling content with less. Write a dozen pitch paragraphs and see the recurring themes, even. What are the stories, characters, questions, and motifs that occur, again and again? How can you combine that which you can give to the production with your love of the art form? You can have your sci-fi epic in your back pocket when the ultimate opportunity arises, of course, but this is the kind of stuff that gets people noticed, gets people experience, and gets audiences intrigued.

Most importantly, it’ll turn all of those terrible films and shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. into fuel. Every time you watch a terrible movie and think, “Why can’t I do that?” push yourself to go and do that. Write a little bit more. Draw a little bit more. Record a little bit more. Take down notes on what you hate as much as what you like and promise yourself that you’ll never make those same mistakes. Continue to build on your craft until you get to the point where you can go out and make that sucker.

If you’ve ever shivered at the thought of marching toward mortality without achieving your dreams, I’m exhorting you–YOU, THE PERSON WHO IS READING THIS RIGHT NOW–to stop being a dreamer and start being a doer!

They did it, so why can’t you?

Catching Up With Building A Better Story World

The holidays have been crazy, as has my professional life! There will be some exciting news items coming down the track, but for now, I wanted to make sure all of my links to the most recent episodes of Building a Better Story World are here!

First up: I cover how to find out what your fans will love about your story world via the “fun” that engages them, time after time, episode after episode. Join me here as I examine three dishes to re-engage excitement and novelty into your world, regardless of platform. Plus, there’s a whole lotta analysis of Psych for all of you Shawn and Gus fans out there!

Next up is an archetypal two-parter! Worried about how your story world may connect with audiences? Consider how classic storytelling figures can help create a bridge between you and fans by showcasing traditional structures that excite all sorts of people. Listen in as I take you through twelve particular characters that appear throughout human narratives, across time and culture, so that you can follow in their footsteps, bend the rules, or forge your own path successfully! The first entry can be found here and second here, but you can listen in any order!

Lastly, we have the rules! Some people focus on magic, science, languages, or politics when building out the foundational guidepost of their story universes, but there’s so much more to the building blocks your world than that! With the aid of a younger Clark Kent, I’ll show how you can build out numerous elements that anchor narrative universes for fans and collaborators while also allowing them to expand!

Happy new year, everyone, and be sure to download, subscribe, rate, and review BABSW on any fine podcatcher!

Building a Better Story World Episode 8 – The Lies that Separate Our World

The basics of your story worlds have been covered, so now we’re into the deeper design elements! In this episode, I talk about the key differentiators between your story world and our real one! Using superheroes, friends in New York, and podcasts, we showcase how specifying this content makes for strong narrative universes. It’s the first part of our advanced class, so click here or go to any fine podcatcher, but make sure you’ve got a helmet on!

Music – icons8.com, specifically https://icons8.com/music/author/ilya-marfin

Audio Effects – freesound.org

Building a Better Story World – Episode 7 – Prompts All Prompted

My latest Building a Better Story World is out!

This is a special one: all the previous prompts in one place! Ever wanted to create a story world and had no idea where to begin? Well, here it is! I walk you through the basics of story world creation! Give it a shot here, and let me know what you come up with!

Building a Better Story World – Episode 6 – Resolutions

And now I’m finally caught up! Better late than never!

Listen in this, our latest episode of story world design intrigue, as I wrap up our five-part series on story world creation basics, fittingly enough, with an episode on resolutions! Click on this link to hear how a famous British secret agent with a license to kill epitomizes how creators can craft satisfying conclusions for their stories in scenes, entries, arcs, and entire narrative universes.

Building a Better Story World – Episode 5 – Choices!

I continue my catch-up of podcasts!

Until then, listen in as I take you on a tour of choices, or those pieces of action that propel characters on their journeys through narratives. Using a popular chef and entertainment icon, yours truly will detail how to better reach your audience by making willful determinations that reflect the universe you’re creating. Check it out here!

Building a Better Story World – Episode 4: Obstacles, Challenges, Villains, and More!

I’ve fallen behind on my postings! Don’t do what Johnny Don’t Does!

While you rightly take me to task for my indolence, give a listen to this episode of Building a Better Story World! Good obstacles make for good stories! That’s why this episode is going to delve into what makes a good antagonist, how they can be themed to dramatic struggles in your work, and the basic challenges that characters face in their journeys! Join me as I chart this course with the help of a familiar, bullwhip-wielding adventurer. Give it a listen here, or on Spotify, iTunes, or most podcatchers!

Building a Better Story World – Episode 3 – Needs!

Hey, everybody!

I have a new episode of Building A Better Story World out. This time, I’m dealing with your protagonists’ goals. The stronger you make them, the greater your narrative universe will be! To help me with this, I’ve enlisted Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte to showcase what this means for your work! Give it a listen here, or on Spotify, iTunes, or most podcatchers!