Continuing to follow Paul’s Shakespeare & Dragons series, episode three deals with the characters’ needs. Episode four is about the objectives of world-building (I have none, really). Both episodes are sort of out of sequence, so I’ll skip them and continue with episode five: Premise!
According to what I learned from Paul, a world’s premise should be built around a driving conflict; it should be structured around a thematic subject that is reinforced by a grand conflict. The premise should inspire countless possibilities for characters with different points of views of the thematic subject. Finally it should suggest a type of action that is typical for stories set in the world and that determines the objectives a hero will aim at.
Of course the premise should also be as concise and as compelling as possible – “High concept”. It should also be noted that a premise, like all other aspects, may change and evolve over time.
So what’s the premise of Arnâron?
Arnâron is a dry, arid world – it’s not quite a “global desert”, as I want to avoid the “It’s raining on planet Mongo” syndrome, but it’s still a world that is hostile to life and the situation is slowly getting worse.
On a dying desert planet…
So far, so good. We’ve spent five words to say a lot: First and foremost, that the setting is an arid planet, a “desert world”. Despite of what I just said about the Mongo-syndrome, I think this works for the premise because it contrasts Arnâron to Earth. If you see the short description “desert planet”, this evokes specific images in your imagination and you immediately understand that this is not an earth-like planet with vast oceans. I’ve also included “dying”, which drives home the point that life on Arnâron is in decline and getting tougher and tougher in a harsh environment. This helps establish the mood of the setting, but also hints at part of the conflict.
Now it gets harder, and actually gets to a point that will be discussed in the next episode of Shakespeare & Dragons: Thematic subjects. What would stories set in Arnâron be about? Going back to its origins, I can think of several things: It’s about survival and war (Mars is the “God of War”), about fate (as the planet is literally doomed to a slow death), about violence, even about the kind of things some people will do in such desperate situations. But as a heroic fantasy, it is more about overcoming that dark side of humankind rather than the deadly downward spiral.
…wage war in a struggle for survival…
So let’s literally use war and survival as our thematic subjects. It’s not an evil war of conquest, but it’s a desperate battle that is necessary for the sake of one’s survival. This also suggests multiple approaches: Is the war really necessary? Is it a good thing or something evil? Do the ends justify the means? Are there alternative solutions? And, as mentioned before, what is each character willing to do in order to survive this environment? These are just examples of the ideas this gives me.
However, we didn’t suggest character types yet. In general, Arnâron is a heroic, romantic setting. Stories would be about leaders, villains and heroes, about larger-than-life characters. They may arise from humble origins, or be reluctant heroes – Luke Skywalker was a farmer, Han Solo a smuggler – but they will end up shaping the course of history, or at least the destiny of those around them. It is their choice whether this influence is for the better or the worse. Our protagonists should be a positive force, Arnâron is not a celebration of nihilism.
We’ll also need to define the main type of action that our heroes will be performing. This one is fairly easy; they’ll fight – often quite literally, with swords and guns, sometimes in more metaphorical ways – and they will lead others – hopefully to a better future.
Let’s try to join this together into an actual sentence.
On a dying desert planet heroes and leaders must rise to fight for a better future, as their kingdoms are locked in a bitter war for survival.
I chose “kingdoms” over “countries” and “nations” because it has a more low-tech feeling to it – it implies princesses, knights, and swordplay.
So that’s it – it’s all there. It’s pretty concise, too. I am not sure how compelling it is, but it’s a start that defines life on Arnâron pretty well. I think I could probably add some gimmicks to spark more interest and to connect Arnâron to the “mythical Mars” of Lowell and Burroughs: “…among the ruins of a fallen civilization” – “…on the shores of the ancient canals”, and so on. I think I’ll save these gimmicks for a possible revision.
Next up, we’ll discuss the thematic subjects and the theme of Arnâron. Stay tuned. And if you got any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to post them in a comment.