JustJimAZ

Building Worlds

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World Building. You've certainly heard the term. What is it? Is it necessary in haunting?
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Worldbuilding can be defined as the process of constructing a fictional universe. Strictly speaking, anything that happens in that universe "builds" it, so "worldbuilding" is only used to describe the invention of fictional details for some reason other than the convenience of a currently ongoing story, up to and including simply engaging in worldbuilding for its own sake. It also defines the rules. To some degree, every haunt is its own little world.

Giving your haunt and the characters in it a backstory is worldbuilding. In my opinion, the best worldbuilding is not long exposition but simply showing the world and those who inhabit it. Most of the detailed stuff is for you, not for the patron. When you decide to create a fašade that looks like a Gothic castle, or a western saloon, you are building a world. You are establishing certain expectations. When you decide to populate that castle with bizarre aliens, or the the saloon with ghosts, you are further building a world. Rules are being laid down.

From this point of view, worldbuilding is more or less inevitable. Unless your haunt is truly just a mishmash of random props in the yard, there will be some kind of sense to it - even if you are the only one who knows it.

Since this kind of haunt can be fun to look at and maybe even have some scares, I'm going to say worldbuilding is not necessary. In my opinion, it can really enhance a haunt, but it can be skipped if you don't particularly want to tell a story. Most patrons won't understand your story anyway, even if you run a pro haunt with a website explaining all the details.

That said, I'd like to make a case for worldbuilding, even if just for character development.

For starters, think of the "infrastructure". How do they pay their bills? Who takes away the trash or buries the dead? This sounds boring, even to me, unless I think about what characters this opens up. In a medieval castle populated by aliens, how do they eat? DO they lure people in to snack on? If so, that place is going to get a pretty bad rep pretty fast. Would they hire someone to help? Who? How would they be paid? Sure, Aliens might pay with gold, but maybe they can pay with long life or incredible strength too. Who hides the bodies? You can't tell me THAT is not ripe with possibility. Are they buried? Fed to the pigs? Are the walls made of their bones? Thinking of how this place works can lead to any number of scenes, characters, and relationships.

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Why are we here? You've got this group of aliens living in a medieval castle. They've been here long enough to establish some minions and life has a routine. So why are we here? What is causing all Hell to break loose? Are the villagers revolting? Maybe, but will they also rise up against the aliens? ;-)

Are the patrons there to "discover" the truth? Is a second group of aliens trying to take over? Consider the line supposedly used by Pixar to describe their movies back in the day: “Once upon a time there was a (?), and every day he would love to (?), until one day, (?), so he (?)"

Life was following a familiar rhythm, and something disrupted it. Now the story can happen!

After this, we get into plots and character motivation, and a bunch of stuff that might be worthless - unless it helps you decide what to build, what to paint, how to light it. If the aliens have a mind control ray, how do they use it? What are the limits? That will tell you how the characters might act.

I know, this starts to sound more like writing a novel. Worldbuilding is, of course, what great novels like Lord of the Rings and Dune are known for. Great video games too. Like games, haunts are interactive. People have parts to play and maybe even a goal! The more you build into it, the more options you have.

Worldbuilding should not take over the actual building of the haunt. It should support it and guide it. It establishes rules - witches can cast spells, their minions cannot, for example. The aliens are stuck in a castle trying to make the best of it. Or, maybe they are fugitives trying to lay low. Whatever. It supplies details to the basic story.

Many people will not get it. You need broad strokes as well as fine detail. I would argue broad strokes are more important than fine detail. Still, one must find ways to keep the story interesting, even if only to oneself.

Those are my random thoughts on the subject. What did I get wrong? What did I miss? How do you build your world?

Let me know.

Happy Haunting!
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