Fantasy vs Reality: Complexity

Fantasy vs Reality: Complexity

Hi everyone! Welcome to another post about Fantasy vs Reality. Today I want to talk about complexity.

There are many things that are true in reality that are not true in fantasy. For example, in reality, other people are as complex as you are. Everyone has their own thoughts, experiences, relationships, beliefs, and preferences that, boiled together, make up their worldview. People who are close enough in their thoughts, experiences, relationships, beliefs, and preferences form distinct groups, from general cultures to highly specific subcultures.

While the formation of cultures and subcultures is common in the worlds that we create, no person in our worlds are as complex as a real person. The reason is simple. We don’t have the ability to project the full level of complexity of a person, or even ourselves, let alone a whole world full.

But don’t take this as a bad thing. If fantasy people were truly as complex as regular people, we would not be able to make sense of their stories. Instead, we should find this difference a boon. Though we risk playing to stereotypes by painting with a broad brush, giving a general outline of a person is often more effective than giving the details.

And this isn’t just applicable to people. We see this in building towns, in designing social structure, in establishing a history, or a cause in our world. When we speak of the farms that dominate the river valley we are designing we can do it with generous terms rather than gritty detail. 

The beauty of this approach is that it allows the person interacting with our world to automatically fill in details that will make the world seem more believable to them. Remember, since each of us has different thoughts, experiences, relationships, beliefs, and preferences, we all have a different threshold for believability. By leaving space for people to fill in details, we allow them to help carry the burden of believability. 

So, how do we do this on a practical level? 

My favorite tactic is to pick two or three defining features. Much like what we talk about with worldbuilding, draw the frame around what you are describing and leave the rest to work itself out. Describe the town as a sleepy farming community sitting on a bend in the river with a well maintained stone dock. Rather than give every intricate detail, the common understanding of what it means when we see something in great condition that is regularly used by the public will shape the assumptions that are made about the town.

A bonus side effect of taking advantage of the reduced complexity of fantasy is that it is harder to write yourself into a corner. As soon as you establish something as true, going a different direction is very difficult. Conversely, if you name something, it exists, and you are forced to move around it.


Stay tuned for more writing from the WorldCraft Club as we explore worldbuilding and the crafting of fictional settings to inspire your creativity.

Seth is a host of the Worldcraft Club Podcast and he wrote this blog. He writes a Gamelit series called Nova Terra that you can find here on Amazon. He currently lives somewhere in Pennsylvania with his wife, kids and neurotically cuddly labradoodle.

We’re happy to host guest blogs on here whenever we can, it gives James a break and let’s other people contribute their ideas. Let us know if you have a worldbuilding concept or strategy to get off your chest, we’d love to hear it.

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