1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Finding stories in a world

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Yora, Nov 29, 2019.

  1. Yora

    Yora Inkling

    488
    196
    43
    I've come across a piece of advice on several occasion that a good way to plan a story when you have a rough idea of the setting is to ask "What kind of interesting things are happening out there?"
    I like it. It sounds good. But when I am looking at the world that I have in mind, it's a pretty static image and nothing jumps out immediately. I feel like I have a good idea how things look when everything is normal, but fantasy stories are always about what happens when things are not normal.

    Do you have any suggestions how to poke at a world to discover interesting cracks showing up where exciting things might be happening? Any good questions to aks yourself to discover implicit conflicts and tensions?
     
  2. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Sage

    355
    148
    43
    I think it takes characters. It does for me anyway. Then they can find interesting things to do in the world I have built for them.
     
    Svrtnsse and Yora like this.
  3. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,134
    414
    83
    Yeah, what kind of unique professions or demographics exist in your setting?
    Then make a character out of that.
     
    Yora likes this.
  4. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    4,298
    1,360
    163
    history time.
    or
    what events brought about this 'static scenario?'

    Were your nations founded by conquest? dynastic marriage? Ambitious traders selling trinkets to savages? Religious crusade or conflict?

    Decide which, if any, are applicable. Then, put yourself in the shoes and head of somebody at ground zero during said event. story becomes history becomes story
     
  5. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

    331
    152
    43
    Take something that is so normal and mundane in your world that it would put even you to sleep. It could be the weather, a job, a natural or man-made feature or a political system that is very stable because pretty much everyone who matters is more or less happy with the status quo. Now trigger something that could lead to an adventure, a quest or a resolve to do something because of the impact it has.

    In the case of the weather think of what impact a hurricane could have on a country where hurricanes have only happened a few times in recorded history and therefore has few or none of the building codes, coastal defences or evacuation plans that countries that have hurricanes regularly would have.

    A person has a job that is boring and mundane most of the time like a guard or police officer who patrols a neighbourhood where crimes are very rare. One night she finds a dead body. It's obvious the person died a violent death. What happens next?

    A temple to the gods has withstood everything that the peoples of your world and nature could throw at it but it collapses one day with no warning or explanation. What does it mean? Are the gods saying they're peeved?

    The country has a stable government but one day someone stabs the Emperor's Minister of Racing in the back - literally. Why? What led up to it? What are the consequences? Was the stability only maintained because anyone who might cause serious trouble "disappears" or because of cherished traditions based on lies and someone wanted to bring these things out in the open?

    All societies have their tensions and issues. What has to happen is for something to turn something that would be seen as mundane into something that makes everyone take notice.
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2019
  6. Yora

    Yora Inkling

    488
    196
    43
    Somehow I seem to have picked up a bad habit of wanting to keep my interesting and exciting ideas for later when they would have greater dramatic effect. I think it probably comes from when I am running famtasy games and the players' character are not strong enough to face the great supernatural monsters and dangers at the beginning. And it doesn't work in that context either. Starting without all the best parts of the world doesn't make people want to play long enough to actually get there.

    Several of the things you suggested actually match closely to things that I have already present in my worldbuilding plans. I just didn't consider them as useful as a starting point. But if those things are what I have to sell to readers holding them back for after they are already engaged with the world seems really quite stupid.
     
  7. Pemry Janes

    Pemry Janes Sage

    280
    18
    18
    Well, I think your RPG experience can also be a help. Just ask yourself what problems does your world have? I mean, it's not perfect. There has to be things that are unfair, that are going wrong.
     
  8. Yora

    Yora Inkling

    488
    196
    43
    There's actually a good number of them. But usually the stakes are kingdoms getting permanently destroyed. My instinct says that you can not actually do that. But of course you can. And maybe should.

    Our current entertainment culture is all about big franchises and in those you can't really do anything that changes the status quo, or it would break the world and others can't keep using it. With game settings, I always see gamemasters not wanting to do anything drastic to the world because they anticipate that there will be updates to the setting in the future and they don't want their game to contradict that.
    But none of that really applies to writing books in your own world. You're never going to cross paths with other creators also working on it simultaneously with you.
     
  9. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

    500
    194
    43
    You could ask questions like:
    Who is in charge, how did they get there and who wants to take over?
    What is the source of magic, who is most powerful, who seeks more power, can any of them be corrupted?
    Are there other lands, is there any conflicts between different lands?
    Who in your world suffers, how can the suffering be eased?
     
  10. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

    331
    152
    43
    Even boring and safe societies have their dirty secrets and conflicts. We discovered that the hard way here in New Zealand with the Christchurch terrorist attack in March 2019. The question is to find out what cracks exists in your society and how to get the best out of those cracks.

    You could use a minor event or series of minor events to get the hero started on their journey. Each minor event hints at something bigger but the hero isn't sure what it is until that big event happens. Think of those minor events like clues in a mystery novel. Some are red herrings designed to mislead the hero and the reader while others prove to be pivotal to working out what's going on.

    The big event is the moment the hero realises what's at stake and they have to do something about it.

    For example your MC might be approached by a local wizard to find an old staff that has been stolen. It's sentimental to him because it was the first staff he made as a lad - or so he claims. The MC agrees to find it. A series of encounters and minor events reveal there's more to this staff than meets the eye but they're not quite sure what. Only when the MC gets the staff does she learn the truth about why it's so important. That's the moment the nature of the quest changes to that of dealing with the great threat that threatens to destroy this boring and mundane society. The staff's role in this could be good, bad or a mixture of both.
     
  11. Yora

    Yora Inkling

    488
    196
    43
    One thing I am noticing, though at least it is appearing that way to me, is that these are all good questions for big stories about major threats to many people.
    Major threats to society can always also be approached as stories about an individual's experience during that situation, without going into the large scale events and developments.
    Though I am wondering if this is something inherent to the approach of asking a setting about stories that it produces? Can you also get purely personal stories without a social upheaval from it? It might be the wrong way to go looking for such stories.
     
  12. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    4,298
    1,360
    163
    Most certainly. Sibling sets out to find missing relative. Entering into a risky business venture. Veteran (ordinary foot soldier) coping with the trauma of a devastating war. Escape from slavery. Shipwrecked on a strange or hostile shore. To name but a few.
     
  13. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

    331
    152
    43
    H G Wells told the story of a Martian invasion of Earth from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who appears to be a writer or journalist of some sort. Thus, telling the story of a big event from that of an individual caught up in it is a good one. It works even better when told from someone who doesn't have enough influence to meet the President, the Emperor or any other type of leader.
     
  14. Yora

    Yora Inkling

    488
    196
    43
    A while back I read an article about working your passions into stories, and it has stayed in my mind even though I wasn't really sure what exactly it would mean for my idea. And now looking over that older comment again, I think it's easy for creators to start taking elements of the world as a given, even if they were originally meant to be the "cool big thing" on which the world is build. Things might be taken as mundane and completely ordinary to the characters, but they can still also be cool and exciting for the audience.

    I've been taking some notes on what things I get really excited about when I see them in fantasy and on which I already did a lot of research in the past:
    - Bronze Age palaces
    - Shamanism
    - Domesticated prehistoric animals
    - Scavenger societies in an empty wilderness
    - Realistic treatments of violence
    - Giant eldritch horror monsters
    - Environmentally harmful magic
    - Exoplanets

    The last two seem like obvious extraordinary elements to work a plot around. But even though the other five are boringly mundane to the inhabitants of such a world, they are still are really fascinating things that stand out from most fantasy. I think I've kind of forgot about them because they already blended completely into the background of my mental image for the world. But in a way that's really the cool stuff. And I think my last story ideas that I got bored with didn't really include any of them in relevant roles.

    "In a world ruins, a shaman king in his Bronze Age palace is trying to fight giant eldritch horror monsters with environmentally harmful magic. And his warriors ride war dinosaurs, and it's an alien planet with a gas giant moon." This already sounds super awesome and there's not even any mention of plot yet.
     
  15. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,134
    414
    83
    I’m going to kind of go against the grain here and say that I really hate how most fantasy writers tend to default to gigantic world changing events involving governments and military and grand mystical forces and so forth.
    I’d like to see more small scale stories in fantasy, personally. I think those kinds of stories tend to give readers a better sense of the setting. And if you’re starting with the setting, I’d imagine it would be easier to find an average Joe Everyman in your world as opposed to finding the game changer of the world.
     
  16. Yora

    Yora Inkling

    488
    196
    43
    While I generally agree with this, an actual everyman probably isn't going to have particularly exciting adventures.
    Which is not strictly a a requirement for all fantasy, though.
     
  17. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    5,369
    2,383
    313
    Someone I felt did this really well is Nathan Lowell in his books about the golden age of the solar clipper. It's Science Fiction and not fantasy, but the principle is the same. It starts out with a regular Joe who gets a job as a quarter share on a space ship and then the world is discovered through his eyes.
     
  18. Yora

    Yora Inkling

    488
    196
    43
    But what does he do? What is the plot?
     
  19. Aldarion

    Aldarion Troubadour

    182
    79
    28
    My problem is the opposite: there are so many potential avenues of conflict (social, socio-economic, socio-political, internal,political, external-political, international, mercantile, cultural, religious, psychological, mythological, supernatural) that I may not be able (or willing) to fit them all into main story.
     
  20. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    5,369
    2,383
    313
    You're asking me?

    The story of Quarter Share starts with the main character receiving a message about how his mother has died in an accident. Because of the way the world works, he's not able to stay on his home planet, but is forced to either join the army, or get a job on a freight hauler space ship. He's not an army kind of guy, so he hires on to a ship, gets to work in the mess, and learns about what life in space is like.

    I don't recall exactly what the main driving force behind the plot was, but it would be something along the lines of how the main character is piecing his life together, begins to get used to life in space, and finds new goals to strive towards.

    When explained like that, it doesn't sound horribly exciting, but it was still a great story, and I enjoyed reading it.
    The link is here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Quarter-Share-Traders-Golden-Clipper-ebook/dp/B00AMO7VM4/ - and there's 12 books total in the series - although three of them are about other characters.
     
    Yora likes this.
Loading...

Share This Page