Expanding Universes Make Better Stories

This Week In Writing, we look at how worldbuilding is an essential part of epic storytelling.

Expanding Universes Make Better Stories
Source: Disney

Fantasy isn't a genre I often read, largely due to the massive commitment most fantasy novels (and series) require. But I've been on a fantasy kick lately.

I'm almost through a Red Rising series reread (about a month late to the new book) and finished the amazing Fourth Wing last week. I don't know if this is a typical trope of the genre or just specific to these two novels, but both start with a relatively small world.

Minor spoilers for both novels follow.

Red Rising begins deep within a mine on Mars. The entirety of the novel's universe takes place within those caverns. Then, everything changes, and the main character discovers that the universe he knows is only a small fraction of reality. As the reader, we are brought along this journey and (over the course of multiple books) learn more about the greater universe at play.

Conversely, Fourth Wing begins with quick explanations of the world at large. We are introduced to a bigger storyline but are quickly brought back to the main character's perspective: a single college. Our experience is hers, tied to that single location until, well, everything expands very quickly.

In both cases, the expansion of the story's universe brings about chances for more characters and much deeper storytelling. As the character's understanding of their world grows, so does our understanding of the character. It's a fun journey to take alongside the protagonists.

It's no mystery that I love Star WarsI consider myself a Wayseeker. But what I love most about Star Wars is that the story isn't contained in a single film, trilogy, or even entertainment medium. What began with an inexplicable "Episode IV" has turned into countless explorations of characters, stories, and experiences.

Creating vast and detailed worlds gives storytellers immense opportunities for creativity. As Red Rising, Fourth Wing, and Star Wars expand their greater worlds, they're able to return focus to the characters. It's almost like we're zoomed out to see the greater picture and then zoomed back in to feel for and cheer on specific characters.

Ahsoka premiers this evening on Disney+. It features an amazing character developed in the Star Wars universe over the last two decades. The expansion of the universe allowed for her character to flourish in a series of cartoons before being brought to life in The Mandalorian and now her own spin-off.

Minor spoilers for The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels follow.

We're introduced to Ahsoka in the Clone Wars cartoon series. It takes the dreadful film by the same title and turns it into seven seasons of interesting TV. In other words, it takes seven years of a cartoon to fix a questionable film. But that's beside the point.

What matters here is that Ahsoka again shows up in Rebels. About a decade after the Clone Wars, Ahsoka is dealing with leaving the Jedi order and finding her own path in the galaxy (cough, Wayseeker, cough). She meets some pretty amazing characters, struggles with realizing her Jedi Master becomes Darth Vader, and has an experience that can't be explained without spoiling it. If you're interested, I highly suggest you watch Rebels season 4, episode 13, "A World Between Worlds."

I digress. The point here is that Star Wars Rebels expands the Star Wars universe in some incredible ways. Until now, only hyper-nerds like myself have experienced the storytelling mastery this expansion allowed. With the launch of Ahsoka this evening, I hope that world-building leads a lot of new fans into this, dare I say, expanded universe. It also means that we're able to spend time with a highly complex, highly conflicted character. We get to zoom way out to see the bigger picture and then zoom back in to spend time with characters we care about.

I'd be remiss to mention Ahsoka without mentioning Sabine Wren. Next to Ahsoka, she is my favorite character from the cartoon universe. Talk about highly conflicted with a rich backstory, Sabine creates a weapon as a teenage Imperial cadet, which is ultimately used to kill her clan. She fights back against the Empire with graffiti, explosions, and teenage angst while learning who she is and what she's capable of.

At the end of Rebels, Sabine is entrusted with Ezra's lightsaber and a very important mission. That mission, which is more or less the epilogue of Rebels has been a story I've been waiting years to see developed. I have a feeling that tonight we're going to jump back into that story. I can't freaking wait!

Unique Websites

I'm on the hunt for unique blogs. Both in content and in style, I want to see what's out there. Have something to share? Let me know! I'm going to feature some in a future newsletter.

It's time to clear out some of my tabs that won't turn into a larger issue of its own. Enjoy some quick links:

  • Is It Time To Embrace "Opinion Fatigue"?: I really like this article and have often felt like maybe not rocking the boat is the safer way to write. It's also not always a fun way to write. Plus, I have opinions. That's the whole point of writing online.
  • Imagineering Style Guide '94: I love Disney, and I love a good style guide. This article combines the two and gives us a glimpse into Disney's past. It's a lot of fun to see what words Disney wanted to avoid in the early 90s.
  • Twitter Deletes All User Photos And Links From 2011-2014: If you read my work often, you know I'm a proponent of ensuring your content lives somewhere you control. Twitter/X again proves this point by "accidentally" deleting every photo or link published across three years. Oops.