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Do you create the plot or the world first?

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.

I'm sure some of the missing details will be discovered as I write. But I do feel I need a very good idea of certain things before I begin. All these things affect the prose, the voice, etc., as I write, and help me focus on writing, on "being there." At least, I feel more comfortable the more I know before I begin to write.


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.

So, has anyone else come across similar issues? Do you tend to create the world first or the plot first?

So, this is a chronic issue. I think you've gotten loads of excellent, wise and utterly conflicting advice already so I won't offer my answer to your actual question.

I would just note that it's a good thing you recognise that you're doing things the wrong way. You can't just do a little of one, then a little of the other and expect stellar results. With all the conflicts in the advice given, I think the take away is that those modalities work for them. Some people plot first, some people worldbuild first, still others follow a different road. So my non-advice answer is you will have to figure out what works best for you!

You could try a quick experiment: collate all the different answers that folks have given you, then try each one in turn with the intention to write a very short story every couple days using a different technique. Build a small scenario world first, then devise a plot & characters and write a story. Come up with some cool characters first, then think of a plot then write the story and then build a world around them. And then rewrite the story to fit the world. And so on until you find a way that seems to jive with your own inner process. Then it's just a matter of adapting that winning style to your needs.

I'd also ask you to consider this perspective:

Take a look at the literary world of the non-fiction writer: which of the two does she do first? Notice that she's already got a world fully built, fully detailed, fully fleshed out. It then becomes a trivial (!) matter of picking one good story out of literally billions of possibilities. Do you remember a few years ago when that girl in Pakistan was shot on the way to school? Well, now her story is in books and movies. Ever watch any kind of crime channel on tele? Well, any of those real life dramas can, and many are turned into books and movies! Ever heard of Aretha Franklin or John McCain? Famous people that just died recently. The world is already the backdrop --- those stories just wait for a definitive biography to be written!

The take away point here is when you've already got a whole world, and a universe of worlds, and a polycosm of universes to play in, you can write any story your heart desires! You will never need to "redo" your world, or "scrap" parts of it because your subcreated worlds are fully capable of handling any plot, any story arc, any character type you wish to throw at it in any time in history from Let There Be Light to the Big Schlurp at the end.


toujours gai, archie
I would add this: what works for one story may not work for another, even with the same author. Maybe by book 9 you have it down to a reliable method. Cheer up!


Hero Breaker
In my first universe, I created the world and plot first. I spent over a year laying down the foundation before I kicked myself out of that mindset and wrote a story.

In my current universe the story came first. I'm discovery writing the plot and the universe and often find myself playing catch up to form all the cool things I'm injecting into the story. I have loads of background characters that need a thorough profile.

There is a significant difference between both universes. The first is an alternate fantasy world with multiple races, religions, nations, and histories. The second is a modification of our world, near future, and focused on super heroes with heavy fantasy influences.
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 agree with you for me i usually start with character my main problem i mull everything in head first i dont realize people ask me questions. like i said i start with character usually then ask history, goal so forth then at same time i ask who the antagonist and ask same question basically . you can say character is my base usually it worked so far but i believe other things i need to consider with future wip but that later


On both of the worlds for my fantasy novels I created the plot first and crafted my world after. I found it was easier to create the world this way as i already had some ideas to work around.