1. Ged
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    Ged Senior Member

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    Worldbuilding or Writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ged, Nov 15, 2009.

    Which one do you do first? Do you build a universe, then think of stories and characters that might fit in it, or do you come up with characters and stories and create a conworld as you go along?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Mostly the latter. I build my world to suit the needs of the story, but not much beyond that. But as the world takes shape, that may in turn suggest other stories, so it can become an iterative, regenerative cycle.

    The story comes first, though. I don't stick in changes that are incompatible with a story in the works "just because it's wicked cool."
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    For me they come together, but only in part.

    Once I feel like I have a synergy of the two going, then I take a pause and look at the world that seems to be growing around them if only to insure that I don't have a thin, poorly detailed world at the beginning of the story and unbalanced epicness at the end.

    There needs to be balance.
     
  4. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I’ve only written one book, but for me it started with the story. However, I could not write freely until I created the world in which my characters would live their story. World building also improved the plot immensely. But it’s still a process that works together and back and forth.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In all fairness, I think there are people who take more pleasure in the worldbuilding than in the story. They are the people who construct intricate maps, and design societies and governments, and then perhaps write some stories to showcase or test the limits of their creation.

    However, I am more interested in the story I want to tell, and that may quite literally require me to define a world that allows the story to be told. That is the case with one of my novels in the works (which I will refer to as MV).

    MV is about a struggle for survival for a second wave colonization. Their option are limited - they cannot return, they cannot count on help arriving, and when they arrive, the first wave colony that reported livable conditions has failed. I had a specific scenario in mind that caused the first colony's failure and threatened the second wave, so I researched and designed a star system and planet to create those conditions. I didn't go to the detail of mapping or even listing the major land masses, and only superficially defined the other planets in the star system. Already I can see possibilities for a second novel (and perhaps some short stories) in that same setting, but my focus remains on shaping that first novel.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I must admit to a fondness for map making. :redface:

    I have always enjoyed it and cannot remember a time in my life when I did not own a set of quality colored pencils.

    As for what Dave has mentioned for creating a star system that supports the story... here's an example of why it might be needed:

    In Anne McCaffrey's famous Pern novels, there is an erratic planet that is known to the Pernians as The Red Star. When its highly erratic orbit brings it in proximity to Pern, spores from the The Red Star jump the orbital gap and turn into thread that falls on Pern and burns and eats away anything organic it touches, giving the author a reason to have her protags ride intelligent dragons in order to burn the thread before it falls to the Pernian surface.

    A mistake creeps into the story.

    There is another plot device that she uses in that the humans who live on Pern are the descendants of colonists that are so many generations removed from the original colonists that they no longer remember that they came from somewhere else and have devolved into a more or less Renascence technology culture.

    Here is the mistake: Miss McCaffrey gives us clues all through the story that the dragons and other creatures related to the dragons are not naturally occurring animals. And in the Encyclopedia of Pern (which I own) it is detailed for the reader that the dragons are the end product of a genetic program that started with the indigenous dragonets (or fire lizards), tiny versions of the dragons unable to breath fire and with a very different physiology and biology.

    Fine, all of that is well and good, but if the fire breathing dragons are not naturally occurring and came into being only after humans tweaked the genes of the dragonets (fire lizards), then how was thread controlled prior to the coming of humans? The author makes it very plain that the thread is ruthless and virulent and that only the dragons can keep it from eating everything.

    Pern spent countless millennia without fire breathing dragons. Why isn't the planet scoured clean of life due to thread?


    This is the kind of boo-boo that might have been avoided had a little more backstory been written, or more attention payed to the inner mythos already created for the world of Pern.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, Wrey, I have to disagree. The inconsistencies of which you speak are practically unavoidable if an author writes as many stories about Pern as Ms. McCaffrey has. A little more worldbuilding wouldn't have done it.

    About the best you can do is grin wryly and admit, "I didn't think of it from the beginning. I hope it doesn't mar your enjoyment of the stories." Trying to patch and justify can lead to some truly horrible constructs, as bad as some of the backstories written to explain why the Klingons of the original Star Trek didn't have the clamshell cranial appearance.
     
  8. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I think I do a little bit of both at the same time. But it's like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. For me the story and the world the story is set in come together in my mind around the same time before I put anything on paper. After my idea has brewed for a while, I start writing the story. I don't usually pre-plan the worlds out on paper, but I do plan it in my mind, change it, add to it, and keep a running plan of the world my story inhabits. The only time I write something down outside the story is when I come up with something really cool or unique and don't want to lose that idea for the world-building aspect.

    I guess most of my stuff happens in my head rather than on the paper.
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Actually I was thinking a little less. :redface:

    The whole genetics thing never really gets spelled out until the non-cannon Encyclopedia of Pern. It was an unnecessary addition that never really played in the stories and suddenly throws - well, at least for someone as picky as me - the whole plausibility of the planet and thus the stories told there into question.

    It was an over-precise yet incorrect addition.


    Lets look at M.Z. Bradley's Darkover universe as a comparison.

    Miss Bradley has a similar set up in that again, we have an ancient colony which has forgotten its origin and devolved into, this time, a medieval feudal culture. The Darkover novels are actually pretty well riddled with inconsistencies, but Miss Bradley acknowledges them, makes the very inconsistencies a part of the natural history of Darkover and does so in a way that never made a Pickysaurus Rex like me question the believability of her stories. The inconsistencies are minor details in her stories, not major deal breakers like a plot devise that should have resulted in a sterile planet.
     
  10. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've written two novels. With both, I first came up with or pondered an image or situation. Then I determined the world that would be needed for such a thing to occur and then peopled it with the characters.

    As far as consistency over a long series, it can be a difficult thing, I would imagine. I've written one novel that has been published, and am working on a sequel. I devised the world and the back story, striving for the ability to remain consistent with no gaping holes in logic or tears/ripples either within the individual novel and those that might follow. Even with my SF novel (as yet unpublished) I have a notebook with jotted ideas and facts and timelines (which I have long since forgotten since having written the novel and it's been out on submission for literally years (getting out of the slush pile twice for full reads in between a rejection from the slush pile takes a lot of time). I even began the second novel (wrote several chapters) so that if I pick up the series again someday (if my SF novel gets published) I will have consistency in flow of writing (pacing, mood, and just character).

    All that being said, imagine over years how difficult it would be to keep things, all things, straight. I know that sometimes Steven Brust on his blog has asked readers/fans to verify something (rather than he, himself, scanning through novels to find the information). Also remember, there are often several versions to a novel--the first draft, revised drafts and then when the editor works with the author, even another version, where things might be altered a bit. Try keeping that in your head, or even in notes, over many volumes.

    I think also, a first novel is written as a standalone novel without thought toward future pieces in the same world--or maybe there will be one or two that follow. While it'd be cool, imagine the works of fiction over many years being catalogued and put in an encyclopedia, where flaws in logic, especially based on initial novels when the world was 'young.'

    Okay, I rambled a bit, but I found the discussion really ignited some thoughts I'd had when I first began planning the worlds I was going to write in.

    Terry
     
  11. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I think I tend to do as Cog does. Characters come first to mind, followed soon after by their basic stories. The main story, back stories and substories all tumble in at once and immediately begin to evolve. As the stories expand, a world is generated to accomodate them. I never generate characters to accomodate a world. I begin writing before the world is mapped out.

    In my most recent attempt at a novel, (which I'm very happy with so far:D) I began writing with only the city in which the MC resides and the societal norms of his culture in mind (as far as world-building goes). But I did have his history cerebrally written, his personality solid, and most of his future planned. I also had a couple of other important characters planned out to a slightly lesser extent. The rest--characters and world--I made/make up as I go.
     
  12. Irish87
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    Irish87 Contributing Member

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    I'm far more attracted to an amazing story than I am an entire world, to which I can't help but wonder how much of it the reader is interested in. I understand why you would be interested in a brand new world where things exist that you cannot comprehend happening in your current reality, but beyond that I think a good story wins out in the end. That being said, my God complex forces me to snicker in delight as I create political intrigue and design the world around certain values and morals and make sure there is always a dissenting voice to be heard.

    I would make a fantastic Dictator, I'm sure of it.
     
  13. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    Both a likable world and likable characters are important. I think the characters are a tad more important, though.

    It really depends on the writer. If you want to create your world, do it. As you do so, ideas will flow into your mind. I mean, you are thinking about your novel while you do it.
     
  14. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I've never found the "world" to be a deciding factor in my enjoyment of a piece. Some worlds are very interesting, in a sense, like George Martin's Ice and Fire world, due to the many interesting people and cultures that reside and interact within it. In other words, it is always the "character world" that is interesting, not the geography. Sure, you could go crazy and make up some kind of fantastic world that defies all laws of physics and looks to be the creative result of a massive hallucinogen overdose, but such things can feel gimicky.
     
  15. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I come up with worlds first because how much I know about the world will change the way I write the story, even if the info never makes it into the novel.

    Besides, I love building universes.
     
  16. losthawken
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    losthawken Author J. Aurel Guay Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    I ALWAYS come up with a world first. Typically my stories start with some teleological thought such as 'If you had known the the misery you would face in your life would you be willing to do it anyway for some pay-off at the end?'

    This leads to some SF/fiction scenario: An alien entity agrees to sacrifice himself to the enemy, to be fragmented and later reunited, to secure a victory. The process of being reunited starts with a fragment of the alien entering into a dying human who then goes and searches out the remaining fragments and tries to discover his true identity. Along the way he has no memory and is told conflicting stories of the alien war and his identity. Which side was he really on? Why was he left for dead? Can he trust his former self?

    A world that allows for such bizarre circumstances then evolves. But at this point I still don't have REAL characters. They don't usually come for me until I start to write.

    I think that this is a weakness in my writing, but my process has become a habit and I'm not sure how to start with better, more developed characters...

    My question for others is: How do characters or personalities drive / motivate your plot?
     
  17. MelissaL
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    MelissaL Member

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    I have to say the story is the most important part. However sometimes an idea hits you out of nowhere and then you create your own world. For me I love creating new worlds with my writing and sometimes I can go on forever with my wild ideas! That's the fun part. Then if I'm lucky I get a very good story to go along with that world. If you can't seem to come up with a story for your world, then it might not work. My advice is if you create a world, save it and perhaps you can mesh it with another story. I've done this before and its quite interesting how it turns out!
     
  18. bruce
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    bruce Active Member

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    I usually think of characters and plot first. This is for a crime novel.

    If I were to write a fantasy novel, I'd do the world-building first.
    Be that as it may, I always focus on the characters and the story.
     
  19. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Oh, yeah, if it takes place on earth, then I think of a plot first. I make the world fit the plot. Imagine if Twilight had taken place in Jamacia? Hmm, actualy . . .
     
  20. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The story comes first comes first comes first

    Without a story there is no need for any of that, concentrate on the skeleton, and then put on the flesh:cool:
     
  21. InkDream
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    InkDream Senior Member

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    The people usually come first for me and then I figure out what kind of world they live in. Sometimes the other way around but it depends on what I'm writing. Some characters are more present in my head, if you will.

    :D
     

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