While in the process of mapping out a galaxy for a current sci-fi property I am in the early stages of developing, I had a flashback to my first world building experience. I was in 6th grade Social Studies class. It was 1991 and our first assignment from our young, enthusiastic teacher was to “make anything we wanted and present it to the class.” I was new to the school, had no friends, and was glad to have an excuse to focus on something imaginative that didn’t involve group collaboration (that was a trick I learned much later when I grew some social skills in college). I ran home that Friday, full of excitement, and built a whole world, quite literally. Given the opportunity to make whatever I wanted, I created a model for an undiscovered galaxy. I pretty much ignored all other responsibilities that weekend, creating planets of various sizes, moons, suns, etc. and moving them around. I meticulously painted the orbs to reflect their individual topography. I imagined the creatures and space men who lived there, and came up with conflicts and stories about them. I couldn’t wait to show off my imaginary galaxy.
That Monday we each presented our projects one at a time, beginning with last names that began with A. Since my last name started with an “S” I had to sit rocking in my chair in anticipation, dreaming of how I would describe the world and its inhabitants – aliens, space men and the like – and their transportation systems, and military vessels, and weapons. They had laser guns (thanks to Star Wars and the popularity of Laser Tag games in the early 90′s).
One at a time, I watched the other kids present. Their presentations were much different than mine. One kid made cookies, two girls baked cakes, one kid wrote a poem, a girl performed a little jazz dance to a Debbie Gibson song that she had made up with the help of an older sibling. I was not impressed, but I starting to think maybe I had gotten the assignment wrong. Why hadn’t I thought of making cookies, or sewing a teddy bear, or making up a jazz dance?
Still, I though, they’ll think it’s cool. I mean, a galaxy – a whole possibility beyond what we know. How could that not be epically cool? Wouldn’t they see it?
I got up when my name was called and unveiled my model. The parts were pretty well crafted for an 11 year old, and I rambled on for the full 5 minute allotment, telling them about the aliens and the space men, and the war ships and the drought on one of the planets that created a civil war. The whole time my speech was rapid and I was perspiring just ever so slightly. Eventually the teacher had to stop me because I was over time. And only when I sat down again did I notice how disinterested my fellow classmates seemed. Well, most of them anyway. The boy who had made a dinosaur sculpture out of chewing gum was impressed. He whispered to me for the remainder of the class, and followed me down the hall after the bell rang, adding details onto mine, and pointing out possible story lines and characters.
Okay, so I certainly didn’t impress any potential female friends with my science fiction world. They were more interested in boys, neon makeup, and MTV – and I got called weird quite a bit for that incident. In retrospect, I think they were just jealous because some of the boys who liked sci-fi paid a lot more attention to me after that (though none wanted me as a girlfriend – they wanted someone to watch Star Trek reruns and play Mortal Kombat with who was a worthy opponent). The dinosaur boy and I are still friends in fact, though he’s gone on to practice medicine and I’m in Hollywood creating transmedia properties.