Toonaria: Creating a Universe Part 4


Travel way over the rainbow with me to far away Toonaria, a realm of exotic creatures, fantastic places, advanced technology, and magic like you’ve never seen it before. In the days ahead, I’ll share more of my fiction, games and art, hoping you, like me, will fall in love with the realms and unusual creatures that have captivated my attention for nearly four decades. If you’ve missed earlier posts, I recommend starting here: click!)

What goes into creating a big, blended-genre universe like Toonaria, or my other, more gritty ‘verse: the Cosmoverse? A lifetime of passion, brainstorming, and elbow grease. Toonaria is my Oz. My playful dream—one that has snuck its way into numerous stories, games and even greeting cards and comic strips. It has invaded my waking thoughts daily, and refuses to let go of me until I explore its deepest reaches.

Finding time to create is one of my biggest challenges in life. By necessity, my highest QT Games priority has to be The Sea Of Worms, Book 1 in the Cosmoverse World Tour series. Even so, I carve out a little time seven days a week for Toonaria, but not nearly as much as I’d like. (That’s not to say I’m not enjoying writing about the Cosmoverse—I love it, but want to do even more on both!) Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I’ve written piles of stories, created even more art and over two dozen games set in Toonaria. I aim to create more, and begin publishing my Toonarian work (finally!) via QT Games.

For one reason or another (money being one, time another), I’ve never published anything specifically for Toonaria, only for the Cosmoverse, though Toonarian creatures have popped up in my published fiction and Cosmothea Roleplaying Game sessions. A magazine published pictures of my snugglebunny creature a lifetime ago, and I’ve given away dozens of Toonarian greeting cards over the years. These days, I’m too busy to do greeting cards, and while I’m dying to do a new comic strip, it will have to wait. To me, time is more valuable than gold. Wealth comes and goes, but time is something you can’t get back once it’s gone. I have to be very careful with how I spend my time. As I’ve always said: Every day’s a gift. None of us know how long we have. That doesn’t mean obsess over your dreams or the time you have, but use each day well, my friends! We all need breaks, and we all need each other, so don’t neglect what’s really important. Everything else is just cake!

I’ve worked on my worlds for countless hours, and am currently revamping a board game (Freeze Or Burn) and designing a new tabletop roleplaying game (Epic Destinies), both set in Toonaria. I know of many authors and game designers who have worked hard and a few that have gone far, especially those who are single, or who have put their lives on hold for a time (and in some cases, much longer), to chase their dreams.

I believe in living a balanced lifestyle, and so I have not pushed my worlds ahead of God, family or day job. I can see the draw—my heart aches to work well into the night on my worlds, but my family deserve better, my body and mind still need rest, and so instead, I try to get creative with my “free time”. I also don’t spend huge amounts of time in front of the TV. Entertainment has its place, but my dreams are entertaining enough for me (most of the time. I do enjoy a great movie now and then.) I’m happily married with children, and refuse to ignore my family, or slack on my day job so I can focus more on my career as an author/game designer or artist. That doesn’t mean you’ll have to wait forever to see some Toonarian projects hit the shelves. I’m a very productive person, overall.

I keep with me at all times something to write or draw on so I can unleash the ideas in my head, and multitask while waiting at stop lights, a doctor’s office or after a walk with the dog. As a creator, I have to ask and answer tons of questions in order to flesh out my universes: What types of societies live on my worlds? How do they think? What has shaped their opinions, belief systems and lifestyles? For that matter, what religions, political systems and philosophies are out there, and why? What sorts of creatures populate my realms, anyway? How have they shaped their surroundings, and how have they been molded by them?

One world, or 1 solar system? An entire universe/multiverse with dimensions? Many are the questions a creator needs to ask themselves. How do physics work in the new universe? What color is the sky? The sun—is there even a sun? If something’s different than life on Earth, how is it different, and why? What level or levels of technology are there, and how did they get to be where they are? What genre or genres are present and how do they interact, if at all? What happened in the past? What is happening now, and where is the universe heading? Does magic exist, and if so, how does it work, and how has it impacted life? Okay, you don’t have to ask yourself all these questions, but you might want to. That, and more. It depends on the scope of your world(s). Are you dealing with galactic empires as I do in the Cosmoverse or the drama taking place in a single high school or town dealing with a zombie outbreak?

Every creature needs to have a backstory, custom, language, eating habits, talents, values/belief system(s), and much more to make them feel real. What about foreign relations? Crime? Fashion? War? Exploration? The questions are endless!

So, how does one start, much less finish such a herculean project? Frankly, you can start anywhere, and then spread out from there, asking and answering one question at a time, and remembering that it’s okay to change your mind later (at least until you start publishing or sharing your universe(s) with others, as I’ve done via tabletop roleplaying, board and card games with friends and with my fiction and art.

Everything I publish becomes canon, so I have to be careful. I understand fully why Disney decided to pair down the backstory for Star Wars. It got too crazy huge. Both my Toonaria and Cosmoverse Campaign Settings have been around nearly as long as Star Wars and are enormous, which is why I’m revamping Toonaria and am uber careful with each new Cosmoverse release.

When I was preparing to bring on board authors to help write novellas for Arcane Synthesis: A Blended-Genre Anthology, I had to prepare a Setting Bible to help them understand the Cosmoverse well enough to write about it. It was at that time that I realized just how big that universe had gotten. As a result, my Bible never felt complete. (One never really finishes making a universe.)

The Cosmoverse is larger than Toonaria, and I’ve struggled many times to write a complete timeline for it because it is so freaking huge! As I revamp Toonaria, I’m constantly refining and even expanding it, but I’m doing so in a very organized fashion, so I’m hoping it won’t get out of hand. So far, so good!

Thankfully, Arcane Synthesis worked out great. I hope to put out Divine Synthesis one of these days (exploring the gods of the Cosmoverse and the impact of the mysterious GodStorm), and have recently finished The Shadow Reaper, one of my all-time favorite Cosmoverse stories. I have many other stories in the works slated for down the road, but Toonaria will be taking center stage before long. It deserves some time in the spotlight (though I’ll never stop writing about the Cosmoverse, too—no worries!)

If you are considering making a universe or have already started, I encourage you to keep a concise, but comprehensive bible and timeline. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to answer everything right away. Brainstorm considerably before making things “fact” in your universe. If you aren’t sure how brainstorming works, look it up on Google. It is critical to the success of any project. At some point, however, you have to reel in your imagination and ask the tough questions (Like, “Why does it work that way?” and, “How does that affect everything else? You don’t need to incorporate all of your ideas. Sometimes less is more, after all.

I love blending genres together, so my universes are fairly complex. I also love writing lore and making up creatures, but you don’t have to know everything about your universe. For that matter, it’s good to leave some areas unexplored—for both the readers/players and you to discover later.) Toonaria has floating islands, god-like artificial intelligences, fallen gods, post-apocalyptic environments, thriving societies of adorable monsters with extraordinary powers, towering kaiju, crazy cool magic, unexplored dimensions, virtual reality, dream parks, zombies unlike any you’ve ever heard of, and all sorts of things that likely could never happen in real life.

I mentioned in a previous post that in Toonaria, fun trumps logic every time. I’m not shooting for near future realism. I’ll leave that to reality buffs and the scientifically inclined. I do a good amount of research, and if you are designing a universe, you should too! But if you put too much science into something, you can also end up painting yourself into a corner only to be corrected and embarrassed later.

Some things can and should be left up to the imagination (or the Game Master.) Other aspects need special treatment and attention (Like, “How can a jawba out eat a tribe of gubblings?” And yes, a jawba can do just that! I answered it, and it makes sense. Internal logic is important, but allow yourself to breath, to create, to get fantastical or use magic to answer some questions. Doing so is not only okay, in some cases, it’s downright mandatory. Toonaria is larger than life, so I’m not allowing myself to get bogged down in concepts some believe are scientifically impossible (floating islands, for example.) Why spoil all the fun?

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. (Or at least don’t let them discourage you.) Do ensure you present your vision in a manner that allows others to suspend disbelief, or at least become wrapped up in your stories. Sometimes a question might be interesting to explore even if it doesn’t need to be. For example: Why does the “yellow brick road” of Oz meander in places, and why is it so darn yellow? Did the munchkins have a hard time finding Emerald City and therefore need such a bold path to follow? Did their species get lost easily?

Yellow brick road
Is that a red brick road in the picture, above? I think the red pavers might just be how the rest of the town is paved, but it would be more interesting if there really was a red brick road. Where would it lead? Doesn’t really matter, but as the creator of a universe, you not only have to create many things, you have to decide whether you will explain them and to what degree. In my book, Sea of Worms, I wrote three different legends for the Sea of Worms and let the readers decide which one is true, if any. I could have written one or even none. What power creators have, and what fun it is to create!

Well, that’s all for this week, folks. Next week, I’ll switch gears and leave the creation process aside for a bit and talk about Toonaria specifically. Not to beat a dead horse, but I’d love to hear your thoughts! Are you creating a universe for your fiction or games, or do you just enjoy reading about them? Do you want to know more about mine? Don’t be a stranger. Let’s explore the universes together!

—Bob Whitely
QT Games


About Bob Whitely/QT Games

Welcome to QT Games! Mission Never publish junk or waste people's time. Publish only high-quality fiction and games. 'Nuff said. Company Overview QT Games LLC was created to publish blended-genre (fantasy blended with sci-fi, etc.) fiction, board, card and roleplaying games for a discerning gaming community. Unlike most small press, we have very strict standards: Only pro writing, pro editing and pro art. That means that if we can't get it right, we find someone who can. We pay well for what we don't do in-house. We don't cut corners on quality. This means we stand to make less money than other small publishers, but that's okay with us. We value your time and money, so we're willing to take the bullet. We've designed a large number of games and written a pile of stories. Now we're polishing some of them and getting them out the door. 'Bout time, we know. Good stuff ahead!
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