1. Tesgah
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    Tesgah Member

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    Do you put much work into the setting and story of your book?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Tesgah, Mar 3, 2011.

    I'm currently in the process of fleshing out the details of a story I have been working on for a while. What I have noticed is that I spend a lot of time writing descriptions, background story and such about my characters, as well as cities, areas, races, technology etc. Lately I have begun to wonder if I am doing way too much extra writing about my world/story, without actually beginning to write the story itself.

    My question to you is: How much work do you put into the preparation phase, before you begin writing the real story, the actual book? Do you write a lot, or do you keep most of the facts in your head? Maybe you do very little pre writing work, and make a lot of it up as you go? I'd like to know:)
     
  2. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah. It common problem among newbie writers of getting all excited about and stuck in building the doll house rather then telling the story. Google "world builders disease". Writing excuses among others got good podcast on this writing problem.
     
  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tend to build as I write - I do write short stories, blogs etc about characters as issues come up. And make scrapbooks of visuals. Cast characters as actors or singers I can stalk round youtube and then start writing.
     
  4. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just make it up as I go along.

    But every writer is different. If you want to put a lot of work into your setting and story, then that's fine. Just be aware of how much time it takes. I would try and even out the time you spend preparing and actually writing, so you don't focus too much on preparation. Otherwise you'll just end up with all these details but no novel.
     
  5. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    I usually have an idea for a story in my head, and then when I start writing it, I try to take the least obvious road. Often times, this road is not the original path that I had in mind. By using this approach, writing is more interesting, and what you write is more original.
     
  6. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Frequently, I do nothing at all. I have the story I want to tell in my head, at least the beginning, and have a good idea where I want to go with it from there. The rest comes while writing.

    Sometimes, however, I do a bit of research and fleshing out, if you will, before the actual writing. This happens mostly if I know my plot is very complex, and I will need to account for its intricacies early on. I have two such projects at the moment, one of which I am planning and the other one of which I am writing. The one I am writing now, I started planning years ago, wrote five pages, then stopped. I am writing this now, progressing at roughly a dozen pages a week, and creating one hell of a story. (Well... that's what I think anyway... ;) )

    The other one, the one I'm planning, finally has most of its plot holes filled in, and when I complete my main project, I will start on that, and I will have been preparing it for about 12 months total.
     
  7. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    I had this problem with my main work. I wanted to know everything about everything before I started writing, but at some point I realized I didn't actually need to know anything. Details can be worked out as you go. How can you even know what you need to know before writing the story, really :)
     
  8. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've never done that. I plan, but it's not planned; it's brainstorming and coming up with some kind of framework or main idea.

    For short stories, I don't normally plan anything. I just write.
     
  9. Tesgah
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    Tesgah Member

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    Wow, these were not the answers I expected. Apparently I suffer from "an ideopathic, degenerative, crippling mental disorder with three recognizeable stages." My oh my, this is not good at all ^^

    It would seem that I might want to change some of my writing habits, and quickly as well, so I don't get to the stage where no recovery is possible.

    Thanks everyone! I would like to get some more answers as well, so I can get an idea of how the sane writers do their preparation work ;) Maybe this means that I can begin writing my book much sooner than I thought.
     
  10. Paris_Love
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    Paris_Love Member

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    Keep going! You're telling yourself the story and all that info is pertinent to you even if you don't include it in the final draft.

    I work on the plot and character development throughout the story writing process. As I see the need to introduce a new character or maybe combine two characters into one person, I go back to the development process. In other word, it's ongoing. I keep a separate folder inside the main story folder where I store my progress on the story on my computer. I also have a character folder that I go to from time to time to see if any characters I've already developed would work for a piece I'm writing.

    Definitely keep going, you are on the right track. When you are ready for the re-write, just start your story where the action begins, or shortly before the action begins, and weave back story throughout the piece.
     
  11. Radhika
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    Radhika Member

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    The same goes for me.

    I used to think that in order to be a really good writer, it's all about lots of description. At that time, I was reading much of the classic novels. You can see why if you've read these kinds.

    I think that I have learned to push it aside. You have to add just enough setting, just enough.

    Let's go towards the example of - Jack was walking through the hallways.
    I would rewrite it as -
    Jack was walking through the brick hallways, listening to his iPod.
    That was just a quick example, but the trick is to add in small descriptive words at some points instead of bogging the reader down with the setting they don't care too much about.
     
  12. Silver_Dragon
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    Silver_Dragon Senior Member

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    Burdening your story with unnecessary details isn't a good thing, but if you're working with an unfamiliar setting (for example, in fantasy) it doesn't hurt to know a lot about your world/setting. I do quite a bit of worldbuilding and find it provides opportunities for new plot twists and conflicts. However...everyone's different, so do what works for you.
     
  13. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't need to change, if it works for you.

    But someday you gotta jump in and start writing that thing. :)
     
  14. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess it depends what you're writing, actually. If it's set in the real world, the world building you have to do is minimal - all you can really do it plot out the plot, and that's always a good starting point. As it moves further and further back in time you need to do more and more research - and you HAVE to do it.

    With fantasy or science fiction worlds you may feel the need to do a lot if there is a vast plot, but really I'd say you don't actually - just know your gimmick that will make the plot work, make the plot like any novel if you're too scared to start without knowing that, and just go for it. As long as you have an opening setting and an idea of where to go next you can write it. Doing masses of prep work makes you feel like you have an obligation to use it, and once you do that you fall into a trap of masses of paragraph long descriptions of places and things, your characters stopping for fuel on a planet they didn't need to just because you wanted to show it off, or your warring tribes in the fantasy world to have extremely heavy-going dialogue about the failings of their forefathers in order to get in the backstory you're convinced everyone needs to know.

    Keep going back to the idea of a novel set here on Earth in the present day. How much description would you tell then? You still get in a little history, a fair amount of description of the locale, but never in such a weighted "Look at me! I did my homework!" kind of way. You need to make each place sound natural, like you might expect to just drop by there, so pick out the key points of a setting, and focus on those.

    Example, if you were writing a historical fiction set in Ancient Greece. Bad would be plonking your main character on a hillside and having him talk about olive trees for a solid paragraph including their significance in trade and which gods used them for what. Just mention him sitting under the tree, a few words maybe about the sun falling through the leaves to let you work in a subtle reference to the god in question (I have no idea if a story like that exists - I'm making stuff up :p) so that any other scholars of Ancient Greece can see it and think, "aha! I know what that is!" and then get the jilted lover storming up the path to come yell at him (ie, get the plot moving).

    In a fantasy world it's just the same. You KNOW a million details about the place because you spent years planning it, but you aren't allowed to tell them all or no one will read it. No one goes for the Silmarillion before the Hobbit.

    And that is why I see excessive world building as a waste. I know a lot ABOUT my worlds, but mostly because I have 2 or 3 set fantasy locations which I reuse and re-write a lot. I never, ever sat down and tried to work it out. It was more a matter of ambling through the plot and thinking, "Oh, if I put a sunken city in that lake, then maybe the villain could have done it..." five seconds before I type a brooding line from the main character about the sun glinting blood red off the last tower of white stone that peeks an inch above the sullen water or something, giving away that he knew this years before I did. :p
     
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  15. Boysarn
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    I make it up as I go as well. However I do have an idea of the plot in the back of my head.
     
  16. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    @Melzaar

    Yes, this I think is the main drawback for doing tons of prep work. It might get increasingly difficult to let all the hours you have put in go to waste. Write down things you think you might forget, write something like bulleted points, or a brief blurb, but don't get meticulous and all.
     
  17. AimlessWords
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    AimlessWords New Member

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    Most of the details come to me while I'm writing. My planning process consists of creating a list of events and a vague description of my characters. I fill in the details between my list as I go and often add scenes that were never planned. My characters fill themselves out as I write. When I start, they're flat and shallow, but as my work progresses, I learn about them and they become more realistic.

    This process makes the beginning very tiresome to edit because I didn't know anything about the world, the characters or where the plot was going. It's always a mess. But Later on I can go pages without editing more than a few sentences.

    Like most other people said, everyone has their own process. Writing all the back story can be useful to you. You'll know your characters from the beginning and your world will be more realistic. You just have to know what details will be appropriate to include in your story. You can't put in everything or you'll bore your readers with unnecessary information.
     
  18. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    Interesting posts. I have a tendency to infodump, eager to tell what I know or think important. Soon it messes up.... I found it's more efficient (to me that is) to write as you think is best, without worrying to much how it comes across. In fact, I tell the story to myself. Then the REAL work begins - cutting, shifting, cutting, modifications to make it more smooth, adding body language descriptions and other atmosphere creators, etc. Then.... I ask someone to proofread - and the second pass after that is a further finetune.

    It means I write a lot that eventually doesn't make it... but it's my way to get the flow clear in my head. For everybody else it may very well be a different process, of course. Just do as it suits you best.
     
  19. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    So I guess it's a balance between how much you write as you go that will be cut out, or how much you write before you begin that won't be included.

    Either way, you write way more than you intend, and always have to make losses among your precious words.

    Well, you don't *have* to, but it might make pretty awful reading if you don't. :p
     
  20. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Very nice post up above there by Melzaar. I always try to weave the backstory into the action. There is action and backstory telling happening at the same time. I've found it works great most of the time, sometimes not so well, but it's the best approach I have found so far.

    The only drawback (according to some) of this (in my stories) is that I change pace frequently. I will have a long drawn-out dialogue or pretty placid scene, where a lot of backstory telling is done or explanations are given, and then there is a change to fast-paced action, as people get their act together and move quickly.

    Though I think it will be less of an issue with the story I am writing right now, this issue will come back to haunt me on my next project.

    I agree, but I am not sure if this loss is a bad thing. I've always left ideas out of my stories in the end that I had drafted, but for which there was simply no room or need. I think this is normal. In every brainstorming session, you get a handful of great ideas and you have to throw some out, otherwise there is no result in the end, just a lot of divergent effort.
     
  21. Terry D
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    Terry D Active Member

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    Everything you do needs to support the story. If a particular setting is important to the overall story then you need to convey that importance. Here is the opening of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House in which she describes the house (the main character of the book);

    "No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."
    — Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House)


    In those few lines she sets the mood for the entire book (possibly the greatest haunted house story ever) without dumping loads of description into the narrative. Maybe she had ten pages of description written before she wrote the book, or maybe she wrote it off the top of her head, but the important thing is that the words she finally chose were chosen to support the story, not her mental image of the house.
     
  22. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do it the way that works for you - you can always do an encyclopedia, wikkipedia entry or website with the extra information. Even with world building as I write I have a lot more information than makes it into my books.
     
  23. FictionAddict
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    FictionAddict Senior Member

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    ^ That's right.

    I usually make things up as I go. Backstory and research is useful for me to get the things right in my head, but I wouldn't say I do very much of either. My story is set in planet Earth, present age, so there's not much of researching to do anyway.
     
  24. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you :p

    I wasn't saying it was a bad thing at all. I know the worst bits of my writing are the attempts to cram in extra information - my good redrafts (I have hit and miss ones - sometimes I add more like a fool :p) are always the ones where I cut back. In my current project, the novel originally opened with 10,000 words of this ten year old girl's life, her parents, her dad's work, the set up for almost every plot line in the novel by fairy stories and much sitting around looking at the scenery. I switched narrator to someone who either knew it all already and if he didn't, he didn't care. Told the same basic story in 3,000 words (basically the girl's mother dies, she meets and almost kills the main character and his best friend) Everything else was just junk, and even though I've not cut back - and even added to the length and action - of later scenes it just feels and reads better. The opening is now short and snappy with minimal back story and world building is contained in safe little bubbles throughout the action (for example, as the main character flies off home with his dying best friend after the accident, he happens to glance down and see the King's navy just as a descriptive aside... Rather than a whole scene I dedicated basically to getting across the point: there is a King. He has a big navy. He's probably a jerk.
     
  25. Terry D
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    Terry D Active Member

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    Reading through this thread brought to mind the movies, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The directors in each case were almost fanatical about detail. In Titanic, Jmes Cameron had names and addresses written on the lugage tags of every piece of luggage used in the departure scene. In The Lord of the Rings each bit of armor was fully detailed down to the smallest inscriptions and designs. Neither director spent any time drawing attention to those details, and the audience probably never paid much attention to it, but the mind will pick it up subliminally and it will convey the level of texture which helped to make the movies remarkable.

    In our writing, the same careful use of detail and backstory will add depth and texture to our narrative. If you can skillfully drop in those bits on the fly -- cool. If you need to do a lot of prework to get there, that's find too. Everyone is going to do it differently. For me, the details happen as I write (which means a lot of rewiting sometimes), I'm afraid I'd fall too much in love with my prep work and want to shoe-horn it into my manuscript.
     

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