“Accordingly, the poet should prefer probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities. The tragic plot must not be composed of irrational parts. Everything irrational should, if possible, be excluded; or, at all events, it should lie outside the action of the play.”
– Aristotle (Poetics, c. 335 B.C.)
[Trans. by Samuel Henry Butcher, 1895]
When I first sat down to write Pratidwandi, the biggest question which came to my mind was – how to make people believe of the things I’m going to be talking about, while they are inside the universe, my universe. There had never been an army of Indian martial artists fighting the British in our history. There had never been exotic hidden sanctuaries in the middle of the forests of Kerala. Vadu clan is a product of my imagination – what if people start googling about the same? Will I then be labelled as a fraud and the entire work be considered a big gimmick?
I took a deep breath and realised that I am writing fiction at the end of the day. So, people know what they are signing up for.
But there was still a longing inside of me to make people believe the things I was writing about – to make them wonder at the end of it all, if any or all of it was real? To make them start looking for answers – the same way I did after watching Interstellar or finishing the Lord of the Rings – was any of it real? Was there a period in our ancient history when we lived alongside dwarves and elves? Is it really possible to travel through a blackhole and reach another galaxy?
This longing, this need of writing fiction which seems real, is what drove me to start exploring the fundamentals of world-building.
See, according to me, there are certain basic rules to world-building. At the outset, it’s all about plausibility and whether one can create a world believable enough for the reader. And this is one of the fundamental principles of writing fiction – no matter it being fantasy or historic. The principle of plausibility is applicable across, as highlighted by Aristotle.
Below, I will outline a few pointers which were like my guiding compass while attempting to build a world of my own. I use the term compass because I constantly kept referring to them during the entire journey.
Just like there is an exposition to the entire story, which forms part of the first Act, there is an exposition to each and every important fact you are trying to establish in your world. And this exposition must come well in advance of such fact being established or used by you in your story.
The fact that a group of fighters will be present in a particular location for a particular purpose should be preceded by a scene establishing the reason – it could be as small as a one-liner. But it’s important that it is established. The readers should not feel at any moment where did a particular thing or action suddenly come from or why it is there. The why can be established later as well in certain cases (when you want some suspense) but, as a whole, there must be some exposition for the same. The feeling of any element being out of place or being unjustified is one of the worst things that can happen.
It is true that when people opt for reading fiction over non-fiction, they are primarily looking for a good story rather than absolute realism or precision.
One then might feel that research is not that important. WRONG!
Trust me when I say this – any amount of research is not enough. It will never be enough. The more you research the more you get to a better understanding of your world and what it should be like. What do the characters wear, what are their eating habits, what do they do in their free time, what is that one quality about the location which strikes them first?
It not only helps in world-building, but writing more fulfilling and real dialogues!
A New York city surgeon’s first reaction to a temple of magical learning in Nepal, called Kamar-Taj, will be of disbelief. He’s a man of science. Establishing this fact, and establishing this fact in a believable manner is what makes people take it seriously. And that is where research comes in handy.
Do you know which story I’m talking about? Mention in the comments.
Attention to detail
In my opinion, details are where one truly shines as a storyteller. Attention to details is very important to make a world seem believable. Good space operas be it 2001: The Space Odyssey or Interstellar demonstrate this fact very well. The creators know that the main thrust of the story lies in the emotions and feelings of humans in space as they encounter obstacles, but they still include enough detail – be it about the spacecrafts or space itself – to make the events happening seem believable to the audiences.
But this doesn’t mean that one should make their writing too verbose or dull. One must also remember to keep moving.
One must know which details are important and which ones need most attention to make your world, your story believable. And this can only be mastered with practice, experience and research.
The truth in fiction
This might seem strange at first. Why am I talking about truth so much while writing something fictional?
Because truth gives your story the depth it needs – both emotional depth and physical depth.
There were two ways in which I used truth in fiction – I pulled out events from my own memories – how did I feel, how did I behave when I faced a situation similar to what my characters are facing? And the second was that I sometimes transport myself into my own world and put myself in my characters’ shoes to exactly envisage what they would do or the kind of decisions they would make. And I would always choose being truthful about such decisions rather than opting for plot convenience :p.
A system of rules
Well, in my opinion, this is the most fundamental aspect of creating a believable world – your own system of firmly established rules for your world. But why?
Very often when we are creating something larger than life, we tend to ignore that at the end of the day, we are writing or creating for an audience which lives in a very real world. Most of them are living a life where to even jump from a height which is more than three steps seems unbelievable.
How can your hero then jump from one rooftop to the other and land on their feet and keep moving?
Well, the answer to that is – they may not always be able to achieve the same unless the writer or the creator solidly establishes their capability to do so. Example?
In one of the scenes from the movie version of Spiderman, he loses his powers temporarily and has to take an elevator to go down a building. BAM – there is your truth – when Spiderman loses his powers he has to resort to the most human way of traveling. Which movie? Mention in the comments.
And there are plenty of examples in good writing and storytelling where the creators strictly adhere to their own created system of rules. Be it Harry Potter not being able to do magic without a wand or Wolverine not being able to fly no matter the need of the moment, NO MATTER what would be convenient for the plot at that given moment.
The creators then resort to other means to make happen what needs to happen – be it Dobby appearing in the locked dungeon of the Malfoys to help a wandless Harry with magic or be it Wolverine using the X-Jet to fly to places.
Your system of rules and your adherence to them will go a long way in creating a believable and a seemingly real world.
To conclude, I would simply say that if certain basic principles are adhered to, some of which have been outlined above, then one can literally create anything – be it a dragon flying a spaceship or aliens fighting in World War II.