The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

Gavin Craig § Matching cuts / 2014-08-31 16:33:56
Tim Maly § Sooo / 2014-08-27 01:35:19
Matt § Sooo / 2014-08-25 02:10:30
Tim § Sooo / 2014-08-25 00:49:38
Robin § Sooo / 2014-08-21 20:47:35
Doug § Sooo / 2014-08-21 20:40:50
Tim § Sooo / 2014-08-21 18:23:13
Gavin § Sooo / 2014-08-21 18:10:44
Robin § Sooo / 2014-08-21 18:06:14
Bob Stepno § The structure of journalism today / 2014-03-10 18:42:32

Worldbuilding and world-extending: Discoveries and questions
 / 

I kicked off this week with a big, messy post about, basically, fan fiction. Now that I’ve talked it through a bit with my incredible fellow seminarians, I think my questions boil down to: What are the aspects of a creative text that are most conducive to fostering fan fiction? and How do those attributes translate to nonfictional domains?

Here are the boundaries I’ll draw around my curiosity:

  • I’m more interested in creative responses to discrete creative works (e.g. this in response to this) than I am in creative stuff made with creative tools (e.g. this built with this). That is to say, I’m less interested in the general phenomenon of people building things with games or tools that are about building things (e.g. what makes Legos so conducive to worldbuilding?).
  • I’m more interested in the wealth (in all dimensions) of responses a work produces than in the inherent creativity of the work itself — the world built on top of or in response to a thing, rather than the world of the thing.
  • I’m (ultimately) most interested in how these attributes of creative works apply outside the most familiar domains of fan fiction such as fantasy fiction, Star Wars, etc. I’m curious, for example, how one makes nonfiction that produces fan-nonfiction.

Some familiar examples of the types of creative responses that strike me as fitting into my framework of what I’ll call “world-extensions” are modding (EG), fan fic (EG), and cosplay (EG).

Some of the more unfamiliar examples that strike me as possibly alike enough to cluster with these things are:

  • An interplay of visual artworks, like the Picasso and American Art exhibit, and particularly the range of artistic extensions of / responses to “The Studio.” (Including Picasso’s own extensions of that artwork.)
  • Op-eds and punditry in major national newspapers and the sort of mirror-world that pundits fashion in concert with one another. (Thanks, Robin!)
  • Parody Twitter accounts, like @MayorEmanuel.
  • Wikipedia.
  • Memes.

Lastly, here are some of the nascent hypotheses I’m forming about aspects of a work that can help bring about world-extending:

  • Expansiveness and/or continuity: The world should feel big and open enough that folks feel there’s room to play with it.
  • Strong, recognizable systems: The rules and boundaries of the world should feel solid enough to provide a common structure to any world-extensions.
  • Focus and blurriness: It seems important that there are areas of the world drawn in fairly vivid detail, but also aspects of the world presented only suggestively. Things to grab onto, and things to fill in.
  • Fandom: This kinda goes without saying, but the work needs to have enough attractions that a critical mass of folks will fall in love with it.

There are a few other dimensions I haven’t reached the hypothesis stage for:

  • What’s the effect of otherworldliness? Are works of fantasy more conducive to world-extending than works based more solidly in reality?
  • How much of world-extension is related to things such as age and gender? We all seem particularly interested in extending worlds when we’re young; does the desire dissipate as we get older and busier?
  • What about the degree of user/reader/watcher/listener investment in the text? To inspire fan-fiction, is there possibly a sort of attentional summit that, once ascended, begins to tunnel the person deeper and deeper into the world of the text?

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be crashing the #worldbuilding tag on Twitter to explore some of these questions. Do join me!

2 comments

Sharat B. says…

So I will point out that one very cool nonfiction incarnation of the fan-fiction you’re talking about finds its ultimate expression in part IX of Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History. I’ll just quote it wholesale here from my Kindle. As context for those who’ve never read or heard of this essay by Benjamin, it’s main thrust, made through lyrical mini-essays, is arguing about ways of understanding history (historicism versus historical materialism). He is also, importantly, a German-Jew talking about this as a way to combat the rise of facism in Germany with the Nazi party. So I think this is fan-fic with the highest aspirations.

A Klee painting named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away fro something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

Now that’s what I call fan-fiction. Benjamin here echoes the ending of The Great Gatsby. He reveals in a way that is hard to ignore how society moves through history. Always nostalgic for a past that we can never reach because it never really existed.

Also, in the introduction to Illuminations which is the available collection of Benjamin essays, Hannah Arendt says that Benjamin wanted to write a work of literary criticism that was entirely made up of quotations. No original words. I’d imagine it’d be like taking cuts of the work you were criticizing and juxtaposing elements to reveal underlying concepts. I was so caught up by this vision that I am trying to write essays that do this kind of thing for my undergrad creative nonfiction workshop.

LWP says…

Matt, try these on for size.

The world needs to be populated by a full complement of archetypal characters.

The bad guy/gal needs to be unbeatable, being a force as strong as death, human nature, the speed of light, whatever.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

Below, you can use basic HTML tags and/or Markdown syntax.