A Whole New World

I had a discussion with a few other fellow writers on Worldbuilding – the idea of creating a new world for your fantasy/science fiction novel – and I thought I might post some of my thoughts here.  I don’t presume to be an expert on all of this, but it seemed to be blog-worthy, and I haven’t gotten a real handle on what should be in this thing yet.  So you are subjected to my rambling.

Recently this is what I’ve come to understand: We talk about good stories being “character driven” rather than “plot driven”, and that’s a good thing. We don’t want the story to unfold by itself, we want the characters, with their own unique motivations, to do so.

However, we seem to neglect the importance of the setting in a lot of cases. I am of the opinion that we are shaped by our environment. Our parents, our schools, our jobs, our countries – all of them make us as people into unique characters. So why not have the setting make your characters into unique characters? In the case of a fantasy, you have a completely new set of principles shaping its people. They may have similar social standards, but chances are your magic system creates a fundamental difference that will therefore give rise to totally unique characters. I try to keep this in my mind when I consider skimping on the worldbuilding phase. That’s exciting, but not nearly exciting to me as actually sitting down and cranking out a novel.

My tendency,unfortunately, is to do nearly everything at once. I want to write the first chapter at the same time I am developing my main character, the magic system, and geography. It worked for my last novel, The Last Scion, because the setting wasn’t very rich. I could get away with doing it as I went. But the next novel I am working on (the Deicide Trilogy) is designed to have a very lush world that has radically different principles than the one we live in and a variety of different magic systems that all tie together. So when I sat down to do what I did with The Last Scion, I found myself stuck – questions started popping into my head that prevented me from plotting the novel, because their answers would determine the type of characters that arose from the setting, and therefore the plot.

The short answer, then, is that I am constantly redeveloping my worldbuilding and novel writing process. In my most recent iteration, however, I think I am going to try a bit more structure, and this is how I plan on doing it: I have the basic idea for a world in my head, and I am going to begin asking questions about the world in my head and answering them. Namely, what would X do to the social structure of my society? Who are the leaders? How do they lead? What is the economy like? How does this magic system alter the answers to the previous questions? How are the places and people tied together? What are their values? How do they differ? The list goes on and on.

When I have a solid BASIS (I completely disagree with the idea of a certain amount of worldbuilding being a goal to reach before writing), I will start to develop the characters that live in that setting based on what I know I want to happen in my novel. If I want a character to take over the world, it makes a whole list of questions arise – how, given my magic system and societal contraints, can he do such a thing? This will no doubt bring about more questions that need answering in your worldbuilding, and therefore make it that much richer.

Simultaneously I am keeping idea net out. I am trying to make writing a sort of every-moment choice of consciousness. When a scene or a character quirk jumps into my head, I jot it down. Then maybe I wonder how that might have ripple effects throughout the plot and the setting.

The biggest question for me is when to start actually penning chapters rather than outlines. For my last book I had mentally divided up the sections between 3 of the major, huge, plot-altering events in the book. I would not begin writing those chapters until I had a rough outline of how I was going to get from major event to the next one. That didn’t create a very smooth plotline. This time around, I am going to try to get a bit more fidelity on my outline before attempting to start. That’s hard for me because I just want to GO.

…I still really just want to GO!

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