Establish your reality, then change it

Talking with various people about our CAVE experience, I needed to articulate aspects of our storytelling that I had only intuited. One of those aspects is a non-obvious point about world-building.

In any story, you begin by establishing a world. The world can be perfectly ordinary — like a factory town in New Jersey. Or it can be completely crazy — like a talking rat in Paris who dreams of being a master chef.

It really doesn’t matter what your world is, as long as it is consistent. When you create that initial world, you are creating a contract with your audience, one that you need to take very seriously — because your audience will indeed take it seriously.

But then your main character will go on a journey, and in the course of that journey will have an important epiphany, and will consequently become emotionally transformed. At that moment the world needs to change.

And that is your chance to change your contract with the audience. That is the moment your audience will be open to a transformation of the entire world you have constructed for them.

But there are rules. The change you make needs to correspond in some reasonable way to the psychological transformation of your character. For example, if you are showing an animated film that features a relationship between a young woman and a prince who has been cursed to look like a beast, your world transformation can take place in a ballroom scene.

The moment the young woman and beast finally dance together, and their relationship consequently deepens, your animated world can change from 2D to 3D. If you had effected that change just for effect, it would seem like a mere gimmick. But if you synchronize your world change to the corresponding change in the relationship between your characters, your audience will happily go there with you.

Following the same principle, we do some unexpected and magical world changing in the middle of our CAVE immersive VR production, keyed to a corresponding important psychological transformation in our main character. And audiences love it. I would tell you what that change is, but you might end up seeing CAVE, and I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you.

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