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.

Literally. 

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 these story characters into a whole new world that you could only have imagined before.

That is the key point in this blog: A whole new world that you imagined – And now, you want to bring it to life in real life, 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 the world, that have not been used by someone else for their own world or story.

For instance – You cannot create a new species of people in your world and call then “Jedi.” George Lucas already did that. You could, however, make a derivative of George Lucas’ work with 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. The point is – You don’t want to use a world for your story that someone else is already using or has already created for their own world or story.

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

  1.   Mix and Match: Remember that I just mentioned that you cannot use George Lucas’ world of the Jedi as your 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 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!

  1. Research:  World building 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. Why is this a legal way to generate a world for your story? Because in the course of your research, you should (if you are lucky) be able to unearth any occurrences in time when the world you are trying to create actually ‘existed.’ You will want to pay 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 resemble the wars, the spying, the holocaust? Then, in building your parallel universe, you will be able to cite all the places where you found information that helped you build it, and make them your references. That way, you did not just build a whole new, parallel or adjacent world – You are citing references that, if anyone came to challenge you about where you got the idea for the ‘glolocaus’ in your story – You will simply point them to your publicly available and published ‘works cited’ which gave tribute to all the heroes from whom you took your ideas.

Now, isn’t that clever?

  1. Be illogical: This is the last thing you would expect a lawyer to tell you, no? But there you go, I just did. You are in the safest zone of constructing the most legal, uncopied, original world as possible, 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. A good example of such an illogical story that was a massive hit, in my opinion, is the move with Kirsten Dunst, Upside Down.  Out of a high degree of respect of not creating spoilers, I will not say a word about what the movie about, in case you have not seen it. May not be your cup of tea, but you may get a sense of ‘illogical’ worlds that ended up making sense.

I will leave you with these 3 ideas on how to make your new world ‘legal’ from a lawyer’s perspective. Have you come up with an idea for 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 that blockbuster.

The most important thing to do is…WRITE!

It’s so easy to get stuck trying to compose the perfect article but it’s more important to simply get something out there. Your writing style will emerge and evolve as you write more.

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Images are Great Too

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