There’s a lot of talk these days about world building.
I hear about it in interviews–from directors to screenwriters to novelists.
Every fictional development must have a fully functional “world”–think about Lost, or Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead.
Many people got mad over the last episode of Lost because too many questions went “unanswered.” Polar bears? Sharks? This list?
Instead of the narrative and plot, people are more interested in the world. Mad Men is basically a show that is going nowhere. Game of Thrones has lots of action (yes…) but lots of fanciful wandering and set pieces. Same for The Walking Dead, just more zombie gore.
The novelist Zadie Smith said writers aren’t supposed “to tell us how somebody felt about something” but instead should “tell us how the world works.”
Why? Douglass Rushkoff in his fabulous book Present Shock says that narrative is fundamentally broken because we can constantly be in the moment. We control the narrative now, and are more control of how that looks. We enjoy exploring a world rather than understanding character arcs, and prefer novels (Harry Potter), TV shows (see above), or movies (think Marvel’s expanding universe) that give us that.
Rushkoff points to the advent of the remote control, the increasing number of channels, and the DVR. Think about it. Before remote controls, people had to wait through commercials. We were much less likely to get up and down to change the commercial during the break. So we would patiently sit through the latest detergent ad to get back to the show.
But then the remote came. Now we’re in control. During the commercial, we can decide if we want to stay, and instead build our own narrative when we got bored. We could constantly look for the “action” wherever it was.
Rushkoff asks: “What if stories themselves are incompatible with a present culture?…We no longer have the time or trust required for narrativity.”
Wow, this makes setting and scenes way more important than character development.
Is there a place for a good character arc anymore? Or, like a video game, should we just invent worlds that we can then imagine ourselves inhabiting? Like the first-person role player to the extreme.
If so, this means I need to be bigger in my imagination and more detailed (…Maybe I should mashup Infinite Jest & Game of Thrones?)
What do you think?