OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers


Way with Worlds – YOU bring the world to life

This was originally posted by Steven Savage on his blog, but has allowed me to republish it here as I think it’s useful for roleplayers! This is part of Steven’s Way With Worlds series of articles. -David

World face

In a strange bit of irony, Im still talking about originality here. Seems sort of weird to keep covering a subject on being more original by not shutting up about it, but here goes.

So there’s one more subject to cover for Originality, of that hard to find, illusionary yet somehow real, quest for “Originality” that so many of us seek, few seem to find, and fewer seem satisfied with. Perhaps thats the point- if we’re not always looking then we’ll not be original.  Whatever that is.

In fact, the whole subject is “we.” Us, me – and specifically you.

As noted, I consider “originality” largely illusionary, something whose specter hovers over us only because we believe in it so much. What is more important in originality and world building is to bring your world to life. Even the most “unoriginal” world brought to life will intrigue and involve people. A seemingly boring person is probably far more interesting than a mannequin.

You bring the world to life.

Too many of us resort to tropes. to well known story elements, in our world creation. These bits of social, cultural, and literary elements are easy to use, but rarely connect and come to life unless you do things right. Frankensteining together a setting of previous pieces, much like the original Frankenstein, tends to result in trouble and is something not truly alive. It’s up to you to make it work.

Again it all comes down to you.

So if you want originality, want a world that’s alive and memorable and involving, you’re what makes it all unique.  Original – whatever that is.

You’re the secret ingredient to get a good world, and perhaps even “originality” whatever rh shell that is. No matter what you make or do the one thing that no one else can do, no one else can bring in is you.

So let’s ask just what you bring to your world and your tale and your quest for originality and uniqueness.

A Unique Perspective

No matter how common your life may seem, no matter how boring it may seem, your life is your own. How you see things, how you view them, how you interpret them is going to be something no one else can have. Your world and all the works derived from it will reflect that.

Think about how you see something affects stories and world buildings. You may have a unique view on some given relationships, or a different take on cooking, or can relate to a character in a way few others can. Your work is infused by how you see things – and in turn, that affects how people see your setting.

I’m not saying your life is going to be fascinating or interesting, nor that your take on things will be as well, but it will be yours. Work with that because you know it better than anyone – and that lets you use it to infuse life into your creations.  Real life.

Take It Farther: You can take this farther by understanding the unique view you bring to your world and world building, and the tales and games that follow.

Unique Skills

Then there’s your unique skillets that inform your world building and your creativity.

Now skills are important in world building because:

  1. You can write about people that use your skills. Ever read a story where someone clearly didn’t know the lifestyle and life experiences of some people? Yeah, you can avoid that embarrassment in your settings.
  2. You understand how that skill-based part of the setting you write may work. In turn, your world becomes more believable. For myself, I’ve found my love of cooking added an edge to understanding setting design.
  3. You might be able to use the skills right in your world building, writing, game development and so on. If you’re good at explaining technology, if you’ve got a flair for the poetic, if you know the right words for something, that works right into your world building and how you communicate it. Imagine being a programmer who writes games, in a cyberpunk setting, so you can make it even more believable as well as well coded.
  4. You have unique experiences with your skills, job, etc. that can provide inspiration. Much as you have a unique perspective on things in general, your hands-on experience may give you many ideas. One of my friends with military service used that experience to take a serious look at military SF and it’s many assumptions, and come up with new, unique take that was more informed.

Sure you may not think you have any unique or interesting skills. You may write, but so do many others. You may cook, but so do many others. You may code, but so do many others. However this is your unique set of skills, your perspective, and your huge list of abilities, knowledge, and talent that you can mine for a better world building experience.

Take it from a Program Manager who cooks vegan food and writes about Geek Careers and Creativity. We’re all unique in what we do, in some way. if only in combination.

Take It Farther: Ask what skills you have that relate to characters or settings in the world you build – can you better understand certain parts or better create certain characters. In turn, ask if any of them can just help your world building or how you implement the world.

Unique Experiences

Any writer saying they don’t use personal experiences in their world-creation and creativity is ignorant or lying. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on “ignorant” if you say you don’t do it.

We all use our personal experiences in our art. We really have no choice because our experiences are how we assemble a consistent story of our real life, so in turn we’ll use them in our world building. Our broken heart, our feeling that school is frustrating for so many, our knowledge of working in an ER, all those experiences inform what we make.

So we might as well admit it, realize it, and put it to use as world-makers.

Our unique experiences – and much like our perspective, they really are completely unique at least in combination – inform everything we do.  We can’t get away from them because they’re us.

There’s a combination of events, unusual happenings, and so on that is unique to you. Use that in your world creation to bring it to life and make it “original” by realizing it and using it.

Take It Farther: What experiences do you have that stand out in your mind? Are any relevant to your world building? Are any “common” but you had something about them that made them unique?

So Go On And Be You

These things, perspective, skills, and experience are yours. No one has quite the background you do – and the combination of elements is probably very unique.

Even the things that seem common to you are probably unique in combination. Sure being a computer programmer may not seem unique, being into techno may not be unique, being into surfing may not be unique, and liking to do baroque may not be unique. But a techno-loving programming surfer who can make a mean set of ribs is comparatively rare.

Realize these things, put them to use, and appreciate them. They’ll help you grow as a world builder, provide unexpected tools, and finally give you another shot at worrying less about originality. When you appreciate your uniqueness, you might see just where your work is unique and “original.”

And stop worrying about it and get back to work making worlds.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, publishes books on career and culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at