World-building Wednesday

A few weeks ago, I decided to turn my attentions back to a story idea I'd set aside because I was doing NaNoWriMo. As with most of my stories, I had the two main characters and the inciting incident that happens to them. I even had their motivations and goals.

What I didn't have was a fully fleshed external plot, which is usually the case for me. I also didn't have a fully fleshed world. Aside from a few notes on the existence of magic and what supernatural creatures existed in this world, I knew little else about this new story-verse.

You see, I usually have characters that come to me or a cool idea for a premise. Then I just stick them into a sort of pencil-sketched world and make things up along the way. True pantser here. The rules of the world generally form as I go, and even then, they're very loose. This is usually fine when I'm writing, but it can cause problems later when I have to figure out the logistics of the magical system or what is plausible and what isn't.

So I decided to take a different route with this new story and its world. I decided this world was going to have magic, yes, but there would be some hard and fast rules. Kinds of magic would be limited, and the hierarchy of power for supernatural creatures would be clear. Then I moved on to the human society and its governmental infrastructure.

Two new characters appeared here with their own backstories, and they worked themselves into plot relevant positions.

Let me tell you, it's been so fun making stuff up and watching this totally new world grow around me. It was even better running things by Alz because she asked the pertinent logic questions that I would otherwise gloss over or ignore. (The perks of having writing friends and/or friends who like asking questions!)

However, there was something I hadn't accounted for. The world-building overtook the story. I mean, of course, the world-building helped create plot where there hadn't really been plot before, but I was concentrating too much on random side details and not enough on MY CHARACTERS and what they want or don't want.

So I switched gears, and the plot formed. My problem now, though, is that I have two sides of a plot that are supposed to tie together, but I can't get them to do so. IT IS FRUSTRATING.

The change in my habits and the experience have been helpful and even wonderful, but now I'm struggling to find the balance in the two methods.

How do you world-build? Do you do it on the fly (like I usually do) or do you do it before you start writing/plotting? What's your favorite part to build?

See you all Friday!


Angela said...

I do it on the fly usually. But not lately, since I've been writing just plain contemporary and focusing on character development.

Elena Solodow said...

I've always been more character-focused than world-focused, so I'm a total pantser in that area. My favorite part would have to be unique words that go with that world.

Tere Kirkland said...

Sounds like you're on the right track! Usually the first thing that I do when thinking up a new magic system is figure out it's limitations, which usually make for tension and chaos all around.

I usually start the same way you do, but I actively plot what's coming next as I go, before I write it down, or at least, I see scenes from the story in my head. It can be the most rewarding and frustrating of experiences.

Good luck with your wip!

Connie Keller said...

I'm actually more plot-focused, though that develops through the characters and their choices. But as for world building,(I'm sure you've read it) I think Dune is a great example of how to balance both. As you read, you see the world as the plot and character develop and vise versa, never one apart from the others.

Ariana Ferrone said...

I'm actually experiencing similar problems at the moment. On the one hand, every single detail of my new world isn't integral to my story - I'm not going to mention everything I construct - but at the same time, it's integral to me as a storyteller.

So to answer your question, I am build my world before I start writing. However, I think it's time I just dove in.

XiXi said...

I think a large problem with world building is it's easy to get caught up in the world you've created. There are two ways to world build effectively, in my opinion. You can either do a setting dump in the beginning and draw out everything so the reader can quickly fall in love with the world you've created. Or you can drop the reader into the world without any preparation, no need for extra explanation, just explain what's relevant at the time, which forces the reader to keep up with what's going on.

I go for number two, and it works the best for me. I make up the world on the fly, because it doesn't allow me to get mired in all the details. Furthermore, my MC is from this world, so it wouldn't make sense narrative-wise to pander to the reader by laying out all of the details. The MC knows them, after all.

As for method number one, the greatest example of this I've seen is the first chapter of Spindle's End by Robin McKinley. She literally does a giant setting dump and includes everything from culture to history to geography. And it works. It's my favorite chapter in that book, and I often find myself going back to it for inspiration. I personally cannot do good setting dumps, but I can read McKinley's work and marvel from afar.

Good luck!

Lydia Kang said...

Alz and I have a bit in common. I'm always so keen to make sure the logic is sound.
Hooray for world building!

Melissa said...

This is interesting. I feel a bit bad but I'm going to be honest anyway... I've never world built or thought up characters or plot. My ideas come to me fully formed, in their entirety. My subconscious does all the work and all my conscious has to do is get it down on paper....which is still hard. I'm sorry I have no balancing advice for you

ali cross said...

I think I'm a lot like what you just described! I usually have the BIG IDEA. And a few of the characters. And I can draft like crazy without much more than that, and let the world build kind of organically. But at some point I have to stop and ask the questions. Figure out the science (if it's a sci fi, figure out the legend/lore if it's a magic/fantasy kind of thing.)

But ya know? Almost every story comes to me differently. So I just never know what I'm gonna get!

Krispy said...

Angela- The advantage of contemporary! Usually, my stick-figure world I use to start with is loosely based on contemporary.

Elena- I wish I could do the language bit of world-building better. I'm more character-focused too!

Tere- Thanks, Tere! For this world, I'm doing that too - trying to get the limitations of magic down first. I'm more on the fly about it usually. Haha.

Connie- I usually have specific ideas about characters and their inner conflicts, so external plot for me is harder to come by. I actually haven't read DUNE! Another TBR book for my list.

Krispy said...

Ariana- Yeah, the getting stuck in random details is where I'm at. Most of it won't make it into the story, but it's important I know because it drives some characters! Good luck with your WIP!

Xixi- I'll have to check out the Robin McKinley for that! I agree with you though; I like the world-immersion thing better. You just have to be careful you don't OVERWHELM the reader with New World stuff.

Lydia- Logic is good! I've been lucky in that usually I have things that are intrinsically logical, so when Alz asks me, I can come up with a plausible answer. But yeah, I should actively THINK about it more. :)

Melissa- I WISH HAD YOUR SUPER POWER. But in all seriousness, that's awesome! I'm lucky that once in a while a pretty fleshed out idea comes to me, but even then there's a lot of logic kinks to work out.

Ali- See, there IS method in our madness! I'm totally like you in drafting, but you make a great point that stories do appear differently. :)