Putting it all together: Xai

By Steven Savage
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Well, I've been talking about building worlds for nearly six months. So, I figure its time to take a look at how I used my own advice to create my own original setting and story: Xai, Tales of the Crossworld. For those of you who've mulled over my comments and those of you creating your own worlds, I hope my experience can help - I've built worlds before, but on Xai, I put all I'd learned together, and learned a lot more.

(Also, the Xai site, link above, was insturmental in helping me write the webbing parts of this column.)

Xai started out innocently with, not a world, but two characters in an online role-playing game. I played Huan-Jen, a Taoist Magician-Priest (imagine a cross between Jackie Chan and the Shadow and your average comic book mystic with emphasis on slightly clueless) and Jade, his prospective, genetically-engineered girlfriend (foxlike traits, takes no bull, affinity for the occult). Huan-Jen, the Chinese mystic, was done partially as a joke because the theme of the RPG was anime-based, and I liked the idea of playing the lone Chinese character in the midst of Japanimation-inspired madness. Jade was supposed to be a short, oneshot character to play off his romantic cluelessness.

Then, suddenly, they came to life - bickering, talking, loving. I was playing two people who seemed to be their own persons, I just happened to let them out. I was onto something with these two.

LESSON #1: Inspiration can come from the oddest places.
LESSON #2: Characters can become almost independent - this is a good sign you may want to do more with them.


Well, I wanted to write these two. I hadn't written in awhile, and thanks to some encouragement from friends, I was doing so again. But I needed a place to put them.

Like any writer, I had a bunch of unused ideas - and one of them was for a city called Triskelion, a kind of Archetypal City that touched upon and connected to different metropoli on Earth. I wanted something with connection, something to build a setting where odd people like these two could meet.

However, Triskellion was an unabashedly psychological/symbolic story, more metaphor than anything else. I wanted to make a more solid setting, one that you could believe existed not just in dreams, but in reality.

I didn't need a city, I needed a world. I needed a whole planet.

LESSON #1: Settings can evolve on you. Let them.
LESSON #2: If you want to explore specific issues and characters, make sure the settng lets you do that - otherwise you'll be forcing things that don't fit the setting.


I wanted a world where anything could happen, but also one that was real - and thus I drew on my interests in quantum physics and the paranormal to create a world that was sort of a crossroads of alternate Earths. Thanks to various elements, out of an infinity of alternate earths, it was easy to end up on this world more than anywhere else when you braved the idiosyncrasies of dimension travel. Thus, the world was a crossroad and a frontier all rolled into one.

Once I had the basics of my setting, then I ended up fleshing the setting out in detail. I gave it a name, Xai (and a rather off-kilter reason for having such a strange name that's part of a running joke). I speculated on the economy, and developed one that worked for this strange crossroads. The social structure began to form as I asked questions; how, who, where, why.

Soon, Xai emerged, a planet of colliding and combined cultures, of powerful and important Guilds, and deep social ties to allow the inevitable diversity to exist. I also detailed the flora and fauna, backtracking through Earths history to estimate what would exist on such a world, based on my ideas of how its past differed from ours.

This is the longest part of the process, and it isn't one to skimp on - and its one that doesn't end. Even as I write this I added several deities to a religion and fleshed out two organizations in the last week.

LESSON #1: Understand the underpinnings of the whys and hows of your world.
LESSON #2: Worlds will grow just like characters.
LESSON #3: Don't skimp on worldbuilding, and don't expect it to ever end.


I had my world, and it was time to adapt my characters to it.

As I've stated before, I treat the world like the character - and indeed, the most important character in the series. Thus, the world wasn't going to adapt to my characters, as it would affect the continuity I'd built.

So, it was time to make my characters fit in - to be reborn in the new world.

Gone from both characters was some of the comedy factor - the theme of their stories is still a romantic adventure/comedy, but some of the deliberate parody didn't fit a more serious, realistic setting. New backgrounds were created to fit them and fit the setting, and I reviewed the different elements of what they did and who they were to make sure they carried on their basic themes, well being original reinterpretations.

This was a strange, but necessary experience. I essentially had to recreate the characters to make sure they fit an original setting, so to avoid invalidating the setting, and to validate them, to make sure they fit.

In this case, I find it important to find a character's "core" when moving them or recreating them in a new setting. Who are they at heart, no matter how you may create them? That's what you can carry over to new settings.

In the case of Huan-Jen and Jade, their cores were easy to find as I had a feel for them. Huan-Jen was an Eastern Mentor archetype, calm and sensitive, thoughtful, but also immovable in who he was. Jade was fiery, take-no-bull, assertive, aggressive, yet also with no room for any self-deception. Together their relationship was a real 'yin-yang' one - playing off each other, differences turning into strengths, totally different yet at the same time very alike.

So, with those ideas in mind, I re-created them, fitting into the new world of Xai, with their essences intact. Some pasts changed, some details changed, but who they were remained the same. Huan-Jen's mysticism took on a more solid, serious, well-researched bent. Jade's odd past of genetic engineering became one of strange culture and dimension-spanning technology. However, they were still themselves.

LESSON #1: You'll have to re-adapt separately created characters for your setting.
LESSON #2: To re-adapt characters, find their cores, what makes them special, and maintain that while figuring out how they fit in your new world.


But, it wasn't over yet. I'd re-created my characters in my new setting to continue exploring their romantic misadventures. But they weren't the only people in the world, so I decided to build important people and people they knew. In short, they weren’t the center of the world - so who else was out there?

Thus I created political figures, mentors, friends, customers, and the like - and I worked on finding Huan-Jen and Jade's place on Xai. I looked at who else was in the world, and finally I had a world that would run on its own even without my characters - they just happened to be fun to write about since they were there.

LESSON #1: If your characters aren't the center of your world, ensure that they're not - flesh out the world and cast so you know where they fit in and with whom.


And that's how I did my own worldbuilding - from a lot of unusual sources and, ironically, my sense of humor. I hope the lessons I learned help you out in making your own worlds.

The Xai stories and site contents are copyright 1999-2000 by Steven Savage. All Rights Reserved. (Never figured I’d be using my own stories for review under Fair Use and have to reiterate my own copyright statement, but when I talked to myself, boy was I fussy.)


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