This comic features my attempt at depicting Wanda and Jeff. Apologies!

Edit: I just realized this comic might warrant some explanation. R.A. Salvatore (the author who had to kill Chewbacca) is a well-known Forgotten Realms writer. He wrote the Icewind Dale Trilogy, which featured this awesome dark elf (Drow) character named Drizzt who became hugely popular. Salvatore then wrote the Dark Elf Trilogy, which is pretty much about Drizzt’s life in the Underdark before he comes to the surface world (it’s a prequel series). Anyway, the Dark Elf trilogy are the only Forgotten Realms books I’ve read. But Drizzt is cool in them, so I like him a lot!

Edit2: Shameless plug! Check out my D&D sketches depicting moments from the campaign I play 🙂

This Tuesday, this guy named Jeff Grubb appeared as a guest speaker for the class I’m taking on popular culture and transmedia worlds. Among other things, he helped formulate the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons settings — my mind was first blown because that meant I was in the same room breathing the same air as the guy who pretty much came up with the world my D&D campaign is set in, and second because that means I’m 2 degrees of separation away from R.A. Salvatore, which I guess technically means I’m 3 degrees of separation away from Drizzt Do’Urden!

So what if Drizzt’s fictional? Whatever!

Okay, so fangirling aside, Jeff talked about a lot of really interesting things and provided some nice insight on the properties of a successful world and the experience of working on these worlds that are ever-expanding. There were three major things that stuck in my mind:

1. Worlds have a focus that fans can run with.

Jeff mentioned that an intellectual property has a core ethos — a theme, in other words. For example, Pokemon’s core ethos is summed up in the tagline, “Gotta catch ’em all!” The Pokemon world is about collection, fantastic little creatures, and developing your own style (Trainer? Breeder? Prof? If you’re a trainer, what kind of trainer?). Also, fans should easily be able to answer two questions with respect to the world — who are you, and what do you want? In Pokemon, you’re a Pokemon trainer, and you want to catch them all. This is a very simple concept that can be expanded in a hundred different ways. Though the Pokemon world is fixedly decided by the Pokemon company, the world allows fans to fit themselves into the role of a trainer and do what trainers would do — build their own teams, collect Pokemon, battle with others, etc. So once you know who your fans will become once they step into your world, you have to identify what they would do, and then create tools that will allow your fans to do those things.
Perhaps the presence of a focus is what makes fictional worlds so appealing, because in real life, focus and direction isn’t something that’s around most of the time.

2. Growth of a world must be managed.

Jeff pointed out that the original form of a property will affect how the property grows. Visual media like comics have very different strengths than those of non-visual media like novels.

Also, be absolutely sure to keep track of what has been said about your world to prevent accidental contradictions, because fans will find it, and probably get really angry or something. Either you have to provide an in-story explanation of why the contradiction is there, or you clearly explain “canon boundaries” (for example, Lucas explains that in Star Wars, there are “two worlds… my world, which is the movies, and there’s this other world… the licensing world of the books, games and comic books”) to which fans can refer and be satisfied.

3. Even if you graduate with an engineering degree you can still end up creating stories for a living

Um, so apparently Jeff graduated college with a civil engineering degree. But now he’s living the awesome life of getting to write storylines for a living. Hey… if he was able to do it, maybe I can too! (I was furiously jotting down notes when he started describing how his engineering degree has helped him with his work — job interview, I am so prepared for you)