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Do you create the plot or the world first?

I had this general idea in mind for a story, and since writing it down I've been trying to mould a world around a basic story arc. I've gotten a few days into the world-building process and I'm starting to feel constrained to a story that almost doesn't even fit with my world anymore.

I had similar issues with previous, unfinished projects where I had a plot in mind and began building a world around it, only to realise that the world had essentially become the plot. The issue isn't necessarily with the lack of detail (food, clothes etc) but rather with the large concepts were built to carry the plot - for example, the society in my imagined world lent itself logically to be space-faring, but the society in the initial plot could not have had the ability to leave their home planet otherwise the plot would take a different direction.

I've decided to let the plot take the back seat, if not just throw it out the car altogether, while I focus on building the world itself. Partly because I enjoy the world I've created more than the story idea I initially had, but also because I want to have a better idea of the worlds logic and current condition before changing it with a narrative.

So, has anyone else come across similar issues? Do you tend to create the world first or the plot first?
There have been other threads about this. Many people here will tell you to work on your story first, and world build to fit the needs of the story.

I went the route of world building first, because I like world building. But I had to make changes to the world once I started writing the story, because in writing the story, I discovered that what I'd thought would be cool during world building wasn't suitable for story purposes. I don't regret having done world building first, but I can see the merit in planning the story first, and world building just what you need to fit the story. Ultimately, whatever works for you is what you should do. You can always change your mind about early decisions at any stage of the story writing process.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
It doesn't matter what you start with, but you've got find some element that you care enough about to build your story around. I would think some people also run into the same problem building characters that don't fit the plot or setting, as well.

The thing is, if you start building a plot, or a world, or characters, without a story, you're at risk of running into some of the following problems:

- You might be spending a lot of time on things that aren't relevant to the eventual story.
- You might end up creating things that are so cool you feel a need to force them into the story even when they don't fit.
- You might find that when you find your story concept, the world/plot/character you've built doesn't make sense for it.
- You might spend a lot of effort learning how to build a world, and not learning how to build plots and characters (or visa versa)..

That's not to say it can't be done or that you shouldn't do it. Just because there are risks and pitfalls doesn't mean they can't be overcome. There are many awesome fantasy settings that have inspired great stories, and there's no reason you can't make one to inspire your own. But it's important to understand the importance of developing all of your skills as a writer. And a novel doesn't really begin until you find a coherent concept to work with - that merger of character, plot and setting.

So start where you will, and worldbuild if you like, but remember that it's off the point, and don't let yourself neglect the rest of the work that goes into a good story.


toujours gai, archie
This is another false dichotomy because the process of creation is long and involved. It's a dialectic. So, you create a little plot, create a bit of world, do more plotting, back to world building. Along the way, characters wander onto the stage, setting shows up, ... by the time theme shows up they're moving furniture, changing the lighting, and the director's running around tearing out his hair.

I don't think first, second, third is the issue here. How does a society lend itself to space faring? Do you mean it's sufficiently technologically advanced? Or something else? Same sort of question for a society that cannot leave its planet. And how does a plot preclude anything, since you're the one doing the plotting? What I'm driving at here is that you may not have the problems you think you do.
My worldbuilding starts with a very general idea of the world (like just "rural early 19th century village"). Along with that comes the character with their problem and they often sit in a rather small space in that world. So early on, the worldbuilding is mostly dictated by where the story and the character starts, and then the world grows like fungus in all kinds of directions from there. For me, it's a pretty jumbled, alternating development-process between plot, character and setting, but I don't develop much of the world before I know more about the story and character. It all grows together.

We're all so different when it comes to processes. I would say that whatever drives you to develop your story is a good place to start, and for some writers the worldbuilding is that very motivating thing. For your story, where you had the characters not being able to leave their planet even though they logically should be able to. Now that sounds like a really interesting obstacle. Couldn't you find a way to use those two things together? Like, what could make this planet abandon space-faring, or never really use it? Is it something internal in the culture or some threat(or rumour of a threat) from the outside? It doesn't have to be the main plot, but something concerning the history of this world, to make it all seem plausible.

I think whatever route you're taking, trying different things to create a story is part of finding your process. I did that too before I found what worked for me. A try and fail-cycle, where getting back to trying each time is what makes a writer in the end. So keep at it, and see what can bring you closer to building a plot without losing the fun of worldbuilding. The best of luck with your story!


I usually decide roughly what kind of culture the plot will take place in as well as imagine the general plot and characters to be used in it. And then I start to hammer out the details or both plot and setting.


Article Team
The world comes first for me along with the characters. I know what plot devices I will use when starting a story but that's as far as I go. I like to have free domain over everything.
I actually tend to start with character, and then the character will sort of create the plot through their desires and actions, and then the world I set them in will usually be built around whatever I feel the plot or theme is calling for.

So basically, I start with characters and build a story around my characters. The sort of world they are put in is based upon the kind of world I feel best suits the story.

If that makes sense.
In a sense, the world is my plot... they inspire each other, they aren’t really separated. How’s that for a non-answer answer?


I write from theme. I decide what I want the book to be about first and then plot, character and setting all flow naturally from that.
Lots of different responses here - wasn't really expecting that to be honest, but its nice to see everyone has their own approach. I like the idea of considering (if not developing) characters and themes while worldbuilding, which is what I'm trying to do with my world. I'm hoping to find a theme or character I'd enjoy writing about while creating a world I'd enjoy writing in - so at regular stages, even when my world currently isn't even bare-bones, I'm standing back and asking "how could I get a narrative from this?".


Lots of different responses here - wasn't really expecting that to be honest, but its nice to see everyone has their own approach. I like the idea of considering (if not developing) characters and themes while worldbuilding, which is what I'm trying to do with my world. I'm hoping to find a theme or character I'd enjoy writing about while creating a world I'd enjoy writing in - so at regular stages, even when my world currently isn't even bare-bones, I'm standing back and asking "how could I get a narrative from this?".

That sounds like a pretty healthy mix to me.

Miles Lacey

When I began my work in progress I focused more on the world building than the story line. My previous experience with world building was creating realistic countries in our world that would be so convincing that people thought they were real. Trying to create a whole new world, on the other hand, proved to be too ambitious so I decided to focus on one particular part of it.

The Empire I created was a standard pseudo-medieval continental European state and the characters looked as if they had come out of the cartoon series Wakfu. Indeed my protagonist Evangelyne was a virtual rip-off of one of the main female characters of that TV show. Obviously, this wasn't going to work so I changed the level of technology and society in general to that of the 1930s. That meant having to change many characteristics of my protagonist, including her wardrobe, her values and her backstory. The changing of the setting allowed the introduction of a Gestapo like secret police and the creation of an antagonist worthy of the name and forced me to overhaul exactly how magic operates in this world. Having magic operating in a more modern world poses challenges that having magic in a world that's pseudo-medieval doesn't have.

Yet, despite all these changes the setting, the characters and the story line still weren't coming together. Then I changed the protagonist's home town from an inland border town to a beach resort town that was modelled loosely on the French town of Menton in the 1930s. This led to some major changes in the physical appearance of the character of which the key change was making her skin brown.

It was the desire to find an alternative to trains that led me to throw out the whole continental European type setting and go for a maritime Empire setting. This paved the way for introducing story lines that included airship travel, tramp steamers and bar fights in seedy bars! But the world itself needed a more fantastical element to it. A picture of a mammoth riding through an alternate world Moroccan city gave me the idea of creating a world with the geography, climate and beasts of the last Ice Age on Earth. Now everything started to fall into place.

The story line, the characters and the world were now finally coming together in a way that I was happy with.

As I've shown with what I've done I think that if a person is struggling with trying to make things work in their story they should play around with the world itself, the characters, the settings, the story line and whatever else is necessary until the point is reached where these things come together in a way that seems natural.


I do world first and I can not recommend it at all. It's just where most of my inspiration strikes me and I've been struggling heavily with creating fitting plots to go with it for years now.


toujours gai, archie
I know I already posted on this thread, but it's been months. I'll annoy people by repeating myself.

You can start anywhere, but it sort of doesn't matter. I may start with a character, but I don't get very far before I'm thinking about where that character lives (setting) and what they might do (plot). I can't imagine how anyone would completely develop any one of that triad (character, setting, plot) in isolation from the other two. It's a dialectic. It's iterative.

For myself, that iteration process continues right through the writing. I always believe I have my main characters set, my plot outlined, and my setting well-imagined. Very quickly, though, each aspect impinges on the others. Character revises plot; plot revises setting; setting revises character. Rock, paper, scissors.

This is one reason why many people say, just write. Plan to whatever degree you wish. At some point, you'll start to itch. That's when you start writing. Maybe the plot's not fully outlined. Maybe the characters are still rather hazy, and the landscape's dimly seen. As you write, you'll fill it in. And out.

It truly doesn't matter where you start, plot or character or world. It only matters if that is where you stop, and you never get to writing.
I usually have vague or general ideas at the beginning. Even if I think I know exactly one aspect of the story, I come to discover later, after developing other things, that I was mistaken, I didn't have a perfect, complete picture of that one thing. Some things I thought I knew, I had to change.

The whole process can be infuriating, depressing, confusing. Right now I'm working on something set in a world I had "created" with a couple MCs I had "created" and a plot I had "created" over a year ago. Turns out, that -ed on the word create was a false impression. I've been struggling with the very first MC—my main guy—trying to understand his motivation. During this struggle, I suddenly had a great idea for a motivation. But it didn't work with the rest of his history, his age, etc.; darn. Well...what about giving that other MC this motivation instead? I'd never had a clear idea of that other character's motivation. And...It worked! Fits him like a glove. But now that leaves me with trying to find the right motivation for the first character. Along the way, this twisting and turning over motivations has altered the development of my original plot. The general idea for the plot is still the same; I haven't slashed that altogether. But where these characters start, what happens to them at the beginning of the tale and how they come together—that has changed. Also, during this alteration, some aspects of their world have had to change, primarily elements of the city where it all begins.

I'm still working on finding the best motivation for the first MC. I think I've just about got it. But we'll see.