1. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    Building the universe: before or along the writing?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Man in the Box, Feb 21, 2014.

    I think I should be doing it before, because there are things I want to mention in my draft that I should know beforehand, but there are always those people who say a story builds itself as you write, which I've come to find it's also partly true. So what's your take on it?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My take on it is: Some of both. If you plan it all out ahead of time, either you never actually get to the writing, or you plan yourself into a box. If you build nothing at all ahead of time, you have thin description at the beginning that thickens noticeably as it goes along. Not very even.
     
  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Maybe put down the bones - the important stuff and leave the rest to discovery. For one book - I have 300 name drops on the residents of a town. There were also a lot of scenes happening in a lot of different places, so I drew a map of the town which I felt was necessary to avoid continuity errors. You can go too far though - and spend so much time on planning that you exhaust yourself before even putting a scene down, because by then your sick of the project.
     
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  4. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tried to write before building the universe and ended up redoing everything I had. lol My world just didn't make sense. So I stopped, blocked out most of what I needed, and have filled in the rest as I go along. Seems to work out better that way.
     
  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I ditto Wreybies - some of both is best. Within some setting, you can't write with realistic descriptions, nor will your characters' reactions and dialogue feel genuine and in place with their setting, especially if it's fantasy where there should be and would be specific details to make the world unique and fleshed out. At the same time, sometimes ideas don't come until you start writing, details reveal themselves to you. A world is a pretty big thing to design and there's no way your head can contain all that detail without something more tangible and structured - such as a story, where details are given emotional and situational significance.

    So, yes, a bit of both I think.
     
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  6. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    What I've been thinking about doing is to write short stories on the origins of certain characters and plot points, stories that wouldn't be published but would help me wrap up the world.
     
  7. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    i write a brief history first, plots n conflicts, overviews and such and then try write the story and fill in the gaps. Its a hell of a task to write an entire universe first
     
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  8. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I take the "bit of both" method too. But I pay particular attention to physical locations that I know from the start that I am going to use. The MC's home, workplace, scene of combat etc. I find it helps to keep the flow of writing going if I don't have to figure out which way to turn when my MC gets home the first time and where the lavatory is.
     
  9. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    Depends. Is it a one time novel? Let the story world work itself out.
    A series? You might want to outline some back story.
     
  10. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    It's only an either-or- situation if you only work well by doing one or the other. If not, and I take it this applies to you since you're asking about it in the first place, there should be balance in your process.

    When it comes to writing longer stories, there are a few different elements you have to manage at once, primarily character development, pot development, and world development. You can leave everything to reveal itself as you write, but that's similar to trying to write a paper with no outline. The issues that arise are usually plot holes, inconsistency, flat characters, infodumping, and a dry plot. And by the time you're done, you know your characters and where you want to go, only to realize that most of what you've written may not even be usable based on the new direction.

    Contrarily, if you plan it all before writing, you will have vision and direction, but many writers find themselves getting bored, as if there are no more surprises. You also run the risk of becoming too rigid by not allowing deviations from your plan. On the bright side of this though is that nothing is set in stone when you have a plan. If you're taking a road trip, you usually have a map and a list of destinations you want to hit. In no way does that limit your ability to change things or discover new things along the way.

    Remember those three elements from above? Without those elements, a story fails, so it's best to flesh them out to some degree so you can move forward. Just remain flexible enough to change things once you know you're characters and your story. In my composition class, the most important thing I learned is that when writing a longer paper, your thesis may need to be changed as the paper changes directions or new ideas are introduced. In other words, even in doing our best to stick to the outline we have, we may still find, in drafting, that the piece took an unexpected turn and that the plan may need to be adjusted to fit.

    Someone here suggested writing short stories to get to know your characters. I've just started doing that, and I think it's beneficial because it gives you a fuller idea of how your characters act and thing (which is a huge driving factor in a story), it gives you a creative outlet for the type of world your characters will be in (allowing you to visualize and create freely), it gives you all the freedom of discovery and creation without harming the direction of your larger story, and it gets you actually writing instead of just plotting and planning.

    Altogether, I say both are necessary, but to what degree is entirely up to you. :) Good luck!
     
  11. Uberwatch
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    Uberwatch Active Member

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    I tend to do it before because if you start changing the fictional universe while writing, you might potentially create continuity errors. It's really up to you.
     
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  12. EmmaWrite
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    EmmaWrite Member

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    I would recommend developing the universe as the story progresses. You want to hook the reader in the first couple of pages/chapters and he or she might put it down if they get bored with a huge info-dump right away. Developing the story tells the reader why they should care about the universe he or she are entering.
     
  13. Red Herring
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    Red Herring Member

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    I agree with Wreybies. You want to plan to give yourself some direction but not too much that you write yourself into a corner. In other words, plan but don't be afraid to change as you go along.
     
  14. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I believe it's best to start out with a good idea of the direct environment your character lives in at best.
    It'll be those little details that can add a lot of realism from food, where it comes from, religion, the way it's practiced, the way people talk, why they chose to settle in area X, etc.
     
  15. Jecon
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    Jecon Member

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    Why not both! Of course, the framework of your universe should at least be vaguely discussed in the beginning, but the its details should be slowly revealed as the characters interact in and with it.
     
  16. KJ Palmer
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    KJ Palmer New Member

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    I agree with EmmaWrite. A huge info-dump may quickly put a reader off. I prefer to start with the MC's immediate environment and have his or her behavior and beliefs rooted in that specific area. It becomes fun to introduce the reader to different laws, politics, people and customs as the MC navigates and explores new areas. It can be tedious for a reader to have to memorize a lot of information right off the bat in order to understand events and actions that are taking place 150 pages later.
     
  17. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think the OP meant conceptualizing the universe for his own purposes, rather than presenting it to the reader. The vast majority of that universe is stuff the writer needs to know but the reader doesn't.
     
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  18. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's too time consuming to world build such that all nations and persons of importance, all cultures and norms, specific borders, cities, commerce, size of armies, populations, languages, quirky things, etc. can be determined before a writing project begins.

    I have the basics developed and fill in the necessary details as needed during the novel-writing process.

    This method allows me to remain consistent while being flexible and efficient with my time.
     
  19. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, details are what brings the story world to life so I try to think through the world building questionnaire beforehand. For example, rather than going on about all the ways the new world is different, I incorporate world specific details as I tell the story. It's worth thinking in advance about world specific currency and the way transactions are made, for example. Then if your character happens to stop for some petrol, or a drink, you can use better description than 'money', or even 'buy'.
     
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  20. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    It's better to start a hook and introduction to your characters. Nobody wants to read a story about what the world is. We prefer to let the characters explain what their world is and how they live through their experience. To me, characters should come first, and then the backstory.
     
  21. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    As with pretty much everything, I see no absolutes here. You plan some things ahead, some you make up as you go along. I write together with T.Trian, so we tend to pretty productive in our attempts to learn this craft, and with every manuscript we've had to go back several times when we get new ideas and/or have to make sure things remain cohesive, but at the same time it's impossible to plan everything ahead -- and I wouldn't even want to as the planning part isn't as much as the writing part :D

    With our current WIP, the world has slowly built itself around the plot and the characters. We did less planning ahead than with our other story attempts, but it's become our main project now. It's also our slowest project, at times almost too laborious :p

    Just remember to make notes and try to be systematic with them. It's a bitch to go back and try to remember some detail you know you planned but forgot to write down...
     
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  22. The Despondent Mind
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    The Despondent Mind Member

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    I guess the middle of the road here would be that you simply make a list of things you find are necessary in this universe but at the same time should be relevant in your story.

    So you're making a story about in fantasy universe that involves Subterranean race and it takes place underneath of the planets crust. The main character is an adventurer/explorer, he trying to discover what's above him. Naturally to fund an expedition above he needs to interact with somebody, which probably would take place in a city.

    That means it would be nice to know for you to know:

    a)How this species finds it's nutrients.
    b)Does it need to water and oxygen? If not what is it's alternative compared to humans?
    c)Is there any light in the Subterranean, if there is, what creates it?
    d)Anatomy and description of all the species our protagonist interacts with.
    e)Technological degree of the protagonists species.

    However since the main focus of your story is an adventure outside the city it would perhaps be to tedious to think of the politics,religion and the economy of this species.

    But If you are working a more familiar universe, I find it ok to borrow some reasonable "laws" without being a plagiarist .
    As in mages need mana/magic energy, Dragons are old ancient creatures, blaster guns, hyper drive etc...
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2014
  23. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    World building is a fun activity in itself. You don't have to write novels to enjoy writing articles about different aspects of a made up world. A free wiki is a handy way to keep such information organized as well. Lots of people do it.
     
  24. Fronzizzle
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    Fronzizzle Member

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    I do both, too, but have found that I have some continuity errors that I have to go back and fix if I try to determine too much ahead of time. Or, even worse, my story suffers if I try to make it fit a preconceived universe. I tried writing a full outline before starting a book and ended up giving up on it because I struggled to make the story fit the characters/locations/situations I came up with.
     
  25. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you are writing SF or Fantasy you have the luxury of just going where the muse takes you. I often write historical novels, so not only are the locations real and fixed, the events going on around my characters are real too so they have to work within those constraints to resolve the obstacles and dangers that face them.

    But even for (say) SF, the environment and the things going on around the story matter. If aliens are invading, then the "hero" has to be done with the task before the planet goes up in flames, even if the task has nothing to do with the invasion at all.
     

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