Monday, July 18, 2016

Worldbuilding: Who is particularly bad at it?

I go on and on about world building. It's kind of annoying, really, and I know it, but if a world isn't properly constructed, I get yanked out of the story. I know I should just sit back and enjoy the show/book/movie/whatever, but I just can't.  See, that's one of the drawbacks to being a writer. Not only are you hyper-cricical of your own work, you notice when others aren't doing their job. Which brings me to one of my favorite television series:  Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now, before anyone goes powering phasers to "obliterate" and launching photon torpedoes, let me restate:  I LOVE ST:TNG. I feel Lt. Commander Data is one of the greatest characters ever written, and I'm not just saying that because my wife loves the guy. However, as a writer, there are lots of things about the show that makes me cringe, and it all comes down to proper world building.  So, crew of the Enterprise, I've judged you to be guilty of poor world building. You will confine yourselves to quarters until evidence has been given.

My prisoners...
Ignoring for a moment the whole Deus Ex Machina that is the "Universal Translator" (a gizmo that can translate any language into English for whomever might be listening....) there is still much for which the crew needs to answer.  For example:  With a universe as vast as the one they traverse, how, exactly, does one just arbitrarily use "ENGLISH" as the default? I mean, come on... There are literarily a billion stars out there, and millions of species each with their own languages. But even if there weren't, there are also more languages than just "ENGLISH"on Earth, so who picked it?  And why? Why not French? Or Russian? Or Spanish for that matter?

Donald Trump's America...
Here are a few other things that take me out of the moment when enjoying ST:TNG:
  • Sound doesn't travel in space... So why does the Enterprise (and other ships) whoosh along? How do we hear the phasers fire? 
  • Why do other alien species, with whom the Federation has had no previous contact, refer to their planets as Planet-name-NUMBER? How would they know what we call it? If they've never been off planet or their world is primitive, how would they know how many others of their planet be? It makes no sense to call this world "Earth 6" because if we did, we'd have to worry about what happened to Earth's 1-5. 
  • Ever notice how in almost every episode, someone has to make some sort of non-standard modifications to the warp-coils/engine/computer/dish array or one of a thousand other little issues on the ship?  Is any of it standard configured anymore? It's a miracle the Enterprise still flies with all the psychopathic rigging that Geordi LaForge has done on her. 
  • Okay, I'll go with the Holodeck and the Replicators, but why not, y'know, actually use them to their full potential? Whenever someone says "if only we had..." on this show, I roll my eyes. Why don't you just describe it to the all-powerful Computer (Long may Majel Baret reign, first lady of nerds) and make one? 
  • And, for that matter, with all the insanity that has come from having a Holodeck onboard, wouldn't a competent captain taken the damned thing offline by now? 
  • In space, everything moves in three dimensions, and there's no gravity... So why are all the other ships we see right-side-up? How does all the tech manage to match up? Why have we not yet met up with another "Federation of Planets"-style group? 
  • What are the odds that EVERY species that the Enterprise comes in contact with are bipedal with two eyes up front and compatible anatomy (I'm looking at you, RIKER)?
Pictured:  Kirk's Girlfriend
There are dozens of other examples as to why the world building in ST:TNG could've used some tweaking. From how certain races who were portrayed as very simian in nature ever got to the technological state where space travel was possible, to the way the captain repeated slaps around the Prime Directive, it's infuriating. 

So how does this apply to your writing? World-building, simply put, means you must first ask why. Why is her skin green? Why is the Holodeck left online? Why is the planet called Melos 4 BY ITS OWN INHABITANTS? And if you can't answer the question of "why," you've got some more thinking to do. 

Crew of the Enterprise, evidence has been presented... How do you plead?
Thought so.
As I suspected.  Guilty as charged. Look, I love ST:TNG. I love it for the positive message it tries to send, and because it's brain candy.  But, as a writer, there are things it does that I just can't abide, and poor world building is one of them. So don't hate ST:TNG, but learn from it. Ask the simple question with every point of your world:  Why? Your writing will be better for it.

Until next time...



  1. The planet-name-number is actually star-name-number.

    Earth would be Sol 3. Venus is Sol 2. Mars is Sol 4.

    1. Okay, but who says a species that has never space-traveled would name their planet in the same naming scheme as the Federation? Or would even call their sun the same thing?