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I've been thinking of a few ideas for characters and concepts, and I am aiming to create a massive world: a world with its own deep history and rich lore. However, I feel like this is difficult to do, because of the fact that if I based this world in sort of a fantasy realm, it would be too similar to things like Lord Of The Rings and Game Of Thrones, and if I base it in a science fiction realm, it would be too similar to things like Star Wars. So my question is, how do I go about creating a completely original world or even concept? I know it can't really be explained that easily, but maybe I could get some ideas about ways to get something original and stay away from overused concepts. Thanks.

---Thank you guys for responding, but I would like to add: yes, I feel that I do have original concepts and characters to add to this world, and no, I'm not looking for commercial success. I'm doing this for the fun of it, and I'm really trying to set it in a place that's pretty original and free of cheap clichés. I feel like there's too many fantasy/medieval and space/futuristic concepts and stories, and I want to make something free of those, something original.

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    I think this question is better suited to Stack Exchange Worldbuilding. – S. Mitchell Jul 21 '15 at 15:48
  • I concur. This question is better suited to WorldbuildingSE. – Thomas Myron Jul 21 '15 at 17:04
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    I don't think OP is asking a Worldbuilding question. This is a writing question. The Worldbuilding site would consider this question as too "soft" and "artistic," I think. Let's try answering it, but only from a writing perspective. – dmm Jul 21 '15 at 18:23
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    @all above, as such, the question would be closed as too broad on worldbuilding. However, I strongly suggest the OP to browse the questions already asked on Worldbuilding, s/he would get some ideas on how others are tackling those issues. We would welcome more specific questions then. – bilbo_pingouin Jul 21 '15 at 18:54
  • If folks think this should go to Worldbuilding, I suggest voting to close. The mods can send it there but I'd like to see some community buy-in first. My concern with this question is that it's extremely broad. – Neil Fein Jul 21 '15 at 23:39
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Complete originality is a bit of a wild goose chase. Neither Lord of the Rings, nor Game of Thrones nor Star Wars takes place in a completely original setting. They've all borrowed extensively from various sources. LOTR is based in large part on old myths, GOT is a fairly typical medieval-themed fantasy world and Star Wars is quite consciously a fairy tale in outer space.

What makes a story or setting original is not ultimately about whether elements of it are familiar, but whether or not you're bringing something new and interesting to the table. Once piece of writing might be different in every important particular, but still feel derivative of another, because the details have all changed, but the overall concept is nothing new. Another one might be all-but-plagiarized, yet still feel new and fresh because of a new perspective on the old idea.

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To build on Chris Sunami's answer, you don't want a universe or setting that is entirely foreign, lest your potential readers not find a way to identify with it even subconsciously. But given your examples, I definitely understand.

I would say the most important aspect of a new setting is immersion; the more you can develop the world and characters, the more likely people are going to be to enjoy the story.

All that said, taking on the task of a new setting is daunting.

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    I'd also add that one can't go into infinitesimal detail of this new world, lest the reader get bored. Sure, the writer could create an amazing place, and describe all of it in detail... but then there is no plot. Sort-of like Cameron's Avatar - so chock-full of eye-candy wonder at every turn, that some viewers just scoffed, got up, and left their seats. – rdtsc Jul 21 '15 at 22:18
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To my mind, creating an original world that still makes sense to the reader is best done by coming up with one central idea about this world and then deriving most of the other details from this idea.

In Science Fiction this is often a technological development that may or may not be already starting in our days. For example in Altered Carbon one such idea is the stack that records the wearers consciousness from birth and allows to upload this consciousness into another body. This has a host of social consequences: Immortality for the super rich, massive overpopulation leading to most stacks being stored most of the time, elite soldiers whose consciousness can be transmitted with the speed of light to any conflict, etc.

In Fantasy this is usually connected to the magic system and/or some ancient conflict. Best both. For example the Wheel of Time is driven by the one power which is divided into a male and a female component, unfortunately in the ancient conflict the male half was tainted, leading to madness among all male "wizards". Fast forward three thousand years … male magic users are hunted down, the most powerful force is a bunch of female sorceresses, the ancient symbol for the one power (the yin-yang symbol) is now divided into the flame and the dragon's fang, etc.

Of course the more original you are with your central idea the more likely you will leave these genres behind. Just take a look at Shades of Grey (no not 50…), which describes a society "wherein social class is determined by one's ability to perceive colour."

So to create an original world you don't have to be creative for every little detail. You just have to come up with the one defining characteristic and then be very consistent about it.

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I'm going to take my own advice, and answer your question from a writing perspective, which (I think) boils down to: How original must my setting be, in order for my story to be worthy of readers' time?

To start, try looking at this question and answers. One of the drawbacks of an original setting is that you've got a lot of explaining to do.

Next, consider that many of the most successful books (commercially and/or artistically) do NOT have especially original settings. For example, you could certainly write a book about a world where the speed of light was comparable to the speed of sound, but then you'd have to explain special relativity, and possibly also the grand unified theory. It would be a very strange world. Personally, I'd love a well-done book like that, but I expect your readership would be small.

If you are hoping for commercial success, then what you want (ideally) is a world that seems original (at first glance) but which is easily comprehensible to a modern reader (with some explaining), so that your world is, in fact, not really that original. Examples are LOTR, GOT, Harry Potter, and Star Wars.

Conversely, you could develop a totally unique world for your book, but if you then merely plunk a copy of Romeo and Juliet into it, people will just say, "Meh. Romeo and Juliet. How unoriginal." The originality for which you should strive is to combine many well-known aspects (world, setting, characters, plot, style, etc.) in such a manner, and with such twists from the expected, that the TOTALITY is original.

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    Take a look at the output of Greg Egan for worlds with unusual physics, most recently the Orthogonal series, which indeed modifies the speed of light. I am also thinking of John C. Wright's The Golden Age for a somewhat commercially successful original world. Finding more examples of wholly original worlds might be helpful here. – Rob Fisher Jul 22 '15 at 9:12
  • Those two writers are great examples. Was going to mention them myself... – Guido Jorg Jul 22 '15 at 12:47
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Developing your world around a central concept or thought experiment that you want to explore is a tried and tested method, as is basing it on the needs of your plot and extrapolating from there. Both might, however, fail to provide you with inspiration for the details that are not directly connected to that central theme, in which case you might end up with a setting that has little to offer besides said theme. Since you're aiming for "deep history and rich lore", that is probably something you want to avoid.

Genre mashups, or setting your story in a less well-explored place and period in human history, can work very well if you're interested in adding "weirdness" or unfamiliar elements, while keeping it easily accessible. Bonus: Agents and editors nowadays seem to love that, and it's easy to pitch. It might, however, require a lot of research (especially the latter option). Depending on your requirements, this might also still feel too derivative.

There's also a few RPG-esque games out there that focus on creating a world rather than playing "in" it, usable on your own or with other players. If you think a more structured approach might help you, that might be worth checking out.

I practice a very simple form of this, starting with a basic impression (a song, a painting, a period in history, something that piques my interest), then defining a small set of "powers" that represent concepts I'd like to explore: natural laws that differ from our own, magic systems, gods or important technologies, plot demands. These "powers" then take turns introducing elements into the world or interacting with them. That usually allows me to build a deeper and more complex world. Randomized elements (Tarot cards, lists of famous quotes, I've even used an online poetry generator once) can help provide inspiration.

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For me, writing boils down to resonating with myself and my audience which means both good news and bad news for anyone looking to avoid cliches:

Bad news: Cliches are the typical way to resonate with your audience

What makes cliches so common is that they work well and things that work well tend to be foundational. Stray too far from the accepted foundation and you tend to get either "new and brilliant" or "weird and ugh!".

Good news: The audience is constantly reevaluating what is ugh

Whoever said it's all been done was mistaken. Our culture is constantly churning over how we feel about stuff and unacceptable and acceptable start getting swapped around over time. The result is there is always something new. For example, sparkly, romantic vampires probably wouldn't have worked in the 50's, but it did in our era. What may not work today may very well work tomorrow.

Personally, though, I think a cliche is like a cookie. I'd much rather have an expertly baked cookie made with the boring ol' classic ingredients than taste test a bunch of cookies made with new and fancy ingredients, so don't worry too much about having some cliches around -- just make sure to make them solid. But try something new and if you can feel the audience isn't going to resonate, then fall back to the tried and true.

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i am new to this so treat me kindly- the things that you need to worry about, are three factors to gain originality according to me:

  1. magic/tech/maybe both: have something new and interesting- something that people are willing and eager to read more about and understand this new system that you are bringing alive. in case of tech, just because the tech is the same(because you cannot bring something new just because you want it to be new- if we dont have a machine that makes your waste edible, it is because doing so is not feacible and because it is disgusting!) you can still make it interesting by giving it new names and different history about how it comes about(the best example i can think about is wheel of time- where they bring in cannons and and are called dragons- and mentions are made to something called shock lance- which i think is a gun.

  2. history- most stories have conflict in it. and having a history behind the conflict that the readers can sympathize with and understand is always good. getting the reader invested in the quest of the protagonist because he/she wants that side to win and not because they want the hero to win is also good.

  3. social structure and the power structure. and reason for conflict. we have too many discrimination based on such and such or heir of important family wrongfully overthrown coming back to claim his "rightful" whatever. something original in both the social structure and a reason for the conflict/drama/whatever taking place in the story would be good

that said,characters that react logically, more than originally is more important though. And dont be too worried about cliches. while throwing in too many is bad(and some cliches are bad. full stop.), you have to remember, a cliche is something that many people use/find. and that is because people like it and it is more logical.

and i would like to reiterate something mentioned by someone else here: in-depth information is the best way to bring massive originality into the book- but beware of overdoing it- dropping a big lump into the readers lump will bore them too much. slowly unraveling the information will keep the readers hanging wanting to understand more about the world that they are reading.

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