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How world building for your story can pass a lawyer’s test

Story writing is the power to be a creator of anything you want.


People, cities, and in fact, whole new worlds have been created through story writing.

Think of movie-stories like Avatar. Star Trek. John Carter. If you have seen any of these movies, you may have been awed by the sheer detail, the believability, the excitement of going on an adventure with the story characters into a whole new world that you could only have imagined before.

How to world build for your book or movie
How to build a world for your book or movie. Image by Angela Yuriko Smith from Pixabay

This is the key point in this blog: A whole new world that you imagined – Creating a world that you want to bring it to life in complete technicolor. Therefore, the question is: How do you build a world for your story or book in a legal way? In other words, how do you create that fantasy or believable existence for the characters of the book you are creating, and how do you do it in a way that you do not get into intellectual property trouble? The answer is pretty straightforward. Then again, not really: You want to build a world for your story or book by ensuring that you have cross-checked on world names, city names, phenomenon, and other indicators within your created world, that have not been used by someone else for their own world or story. In addition to this legal check, you also want to make your new world…well…as believable a world that is out there as can be managed.

For instance – You cannot create a story based on the Star Wars world. George Lucas already did that. You could, however, make a derivative of George Lucas’ work of the “Jedi” but it must, in its own rights, be able to stand alone as a “new” literary work or device. We will not talk about derivative works in this blog. It would be the subject of another blog, as I always like to say, in an attempt to break up these ideas in simple (hopefully), digestible content.

Again, the main of point in this blog is – You don’t want to use a world for your story that someone else is already using.

A man viewing a world. Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Therefore, what are the things you can do, to ensure that you are creating a world that is uniquely yours, and not infringing on someone else’s so as to stay legal? Let us go through a few things that can be done:

1. Mix and Match: Remember that I just mentioned that we cannot use George Lucas’ world of the Jedi as our own story because…Well, that world is already taken. While you can’t use his world, you can mix and match it with other elements to make something uniquely your own. This is perfectly legal. It would be known as a derivative work. As I love to refer to the United States Copyright Office and their view of how things should be defined in the world of copyright, let us use the United States Copyright Office’s definition of ‘derivative works.’ The Office calls derivative work: a work based on or derived from one or more already existing works. Therefore, if you took a world that already existed – And you added a new city. And maybe splashed on some new, never before heard characters. And even included a new language that, hey, no one ever spoke in the old world because, maybe, a new minstrel came to town, and he was the long lost priest who is the only surviving person that speaks that language…Presto. You’ve got yourself some world-building, my friend!

2. Research:  Worldbuilding is not for the faint of heart – Or the lazy. That is, the world built that would actually be worth a damn (Consider Harry Potter). You want to research history, politics, geography, maybe even other planets and what little we know about them. You may even, highly recommended, want to cite the sources where you got the ideas from for your new world. Why is this a legal way to generate a world for your story? You are paying tribute to all those shining stars that came before you who made the world you are building possible. For instance, do you want to build a world similar to Nazi Germany with phenomenon that resembles the fighting, the spying, the holocaust? Then, in building your parallel universe, research the Nazi story, the politics, the culture, and any elements in it that you want to adopt for your new world.

Now, isn’t that clever?

Research your new world. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

3. Be illogical: This is the last thing you would expect a lawyer to tell you, no? But there you go, I just did. You will be in the safest zone of constructing the most legal, uncopied, original world, if you are as illogical as you can be with the world you are creating. Therefore, everything you know about Planet Earth, religion, the school system, geography? Throw it out the window. Make a world that has illogical elements when compared to Earth. A good example of such an illogical story that was a massive hit, in my opinion, is the movie with Kirsten Dunst, Upside Down.  Out of a high degree of respect for not creating spoilers, I will not say a word about what the movie was about, in case you have not seen it. It may not be your cup of tea, but you may get a sense of ‘illogical’ worlds creation from it.

Create a new world without the boundaries of logic. Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

I will leave you with these 3 small ideas on how to make your new world ‘legal’ from a lawyer’s perspective.

Have you come up with an idea of building a world? Well – Don’t tell anyone, get a copyright on the book first! Then come and share the juicy details here. I am looking forward to reading your bestseller – Or watching your video, which, who knows, could become a blockbuster.

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