Every Story Needs a World

By Edo Steinberg

Dustin Ritchea

Dustin Ritchea is fascinated by storyworlds. These are the geographical, cultural, political and historical settings of fictional tales. Dustin points to Star Trek as an example. “You watch the series and the characters, but they belong to something larger. The world it encompasses has history, depth and mythology. I think those are the most interesting stories to watch.”

In his junior year, Dustin won a McNair Scholarship, which he used to work on a paper titled “Realistic Fantasy and Sub-Creation: A Narratological Approach to Storyworld Construction by Using J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth”. He presented his research at a McNair Scholars conference at UC Berkeley and published a paper in the Augsburg College Honors Review.

“I got to read into narratology, how narratives are structured,” Dustin says explaining his research. “I got to read all of Tolkien’s work. I essentially got to go through Tolkien’s entire universe.”

The conference at Berkeley changed Dustin’s life. It was the second such life-changing event. As a high school junior, he went to a weeklong event at Purdue organized by the Hispanic Organization Promoting Education (HOPE). “I went through all these lectures about following your dreams, doing what you want to do. And so I ended up switching my majors from engineering to theater.”

Dustin sees many similarities between his experience with HOPE and the McNair conference at Berkeley. “I was in the McNair Scholarship, which is also for underrepresented groups, and I got in because I was Hispanic. At Berkeley, it was just lecture after lecture about what it takes to go through graduate school and what your motivation is for going. They said you really have to know why you want to do this, because you’re giving up time.”

That message resonated with Dustin. “My original goal had always been to become a theater professor. I settled on the idea that I actually want to go out and work for a while. I want to create things. I fell back on a storyworld I had been creating since fifth grade, finished my English degree, did the research for McNair, and then I wanted to come and learn about storytelling and storyworld construction, about managing and producing creative work.”

He still wants to work on his own storyworld. “I created it when I was in fifth grade for fun. I used to sit on my grandmother’s couch and just write. Over the years I kept trying to write it, and I’d write thirty pages and think this is not good enough. In the words of Tolkien, it’s tough to do, because I want to make it so very badly, but at the same time, I don’t know if this is something I want to do to make money or I want it to be my contribution to the universe.”

Dustin might turn his storyworld into a series of books, the first of which he is currently working on. “I’ve been working on it for three years. It is my take on a fairytale and it integrates into the larger world as a whole.”

Dustin has rewritten his story three times but has not made a final decision regarding a few key issues. “It all comes down to how you want it to feel. Do you want it to be a young adult novel? Do you want it to have depth? Do you want it to feel like an epic? How do you want to write it and how do you want the narrator to be?”

In a few years, look for Dustin’s name in the Science Fiction and Fantasy aisle at the bookstore (or if brick and mortar stores aren’t around anymore – under the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category online).

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