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

Total Noob here

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Biggus Beardus, Jan 2, 2022.

What should I develop first?

Poll closed Jan 9, 2022.
  1. World

    37.5%
  2. Characters

    37.5%
  3. Plot

    25.0%
  1. Biggus Beardus

    Biggus Beardus Acolyte

    7
    3
    3
    Hello, folks!

    I'm stuck and I haven't even really started.

    World building, character development, or plot? I can't decide what is more important to develop first.

    I'm writing fantasy fiction, so the world is a clean slate. Nothing is developed. I've got a blank map with some names on it, but that's all I really have developed for the world. I have some ideas I want to incorporate, but I'm not sure how yet. Part of me says world build the basics first. My problem is I don't want to spend TOO much time world building. Part of me says only build what I need for the story. If I go that route, I'll need to develop the characters and plot first.

    I have some characters, but I'm not sure what I want to do with them yet. If I have done some world building, then maybe I can figure out how the characters fit in. I need conflict.

    I have next to no plot ideas. The most I have is my MC is looking for magic or answers to something in his life... don't know really. I need some conflict. If I world build some, then create characters, I should be able to create some kind of conflict.

    I'm trying to stay away from "chosen ones" and "monolithic evil" (every evil thing in the world is against the protagonist), prophecies, dark lords, etc. This isn't epic fantasy either, so I'm not trying to have my characters running a marathon across the open terrain like in the Lord of the Rings movies.

    Does anyone out there have some suggestions about what to develop first? World, characters, or plot?

    Thanks!
     
  2. goldhawk

    goldhawk Troubadour

    128
    111
    43
    I like starting with the climax. The final conflicts defines who the villain is and who the hero is. From there, you can start to develop their characters. Next is the inciting incident. This defines who the hero is at the start of the story and what needs to happen, that is, how they grow during the story. With these two end points in mind, filling in the rest, characters, plot, world building is easier.
     
  3. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    1,391
    592
    113
    Honestly any of the three works. Tolkien was famous as a world first writer with Lord of the Rings, every script writer to touch a superhero movie starts with an established character and many classical Disney movies started of with a an established fairy tale plot that they developed the world and characters around.

    Since it sounds like your characters are the most developed at the moment ask yourself this; how can you complicate their lives? That could help lead to ideas for plots involving them.
     
    Biggus Beardus likes this.
  4. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

    504
    440
    63
    It's different for every writer, and for every writer, it's different for every project. So let yourself experiment.

    For sci fi-y thing, the idea that spawned it was "what if you were able to do this supernatural thing?" The immediate next thought was "well, this would be really interesting in a mystery!" The next thing I figured out was what sort of character would have this power and what they would do with it, so I sorted out the main character, a background character that made him the way he is, and a secondary character to serve as a foil for the MC. By having these three characters, I have a "goal" of where the character arcs should end, but no real plot yet on how that would happen. I then did "world building," which was mostly hammering out the rules for the power and examples of it being used.

    At this point, I realized that the supernatural power naturally leads to some questions about the nature of (political/societal) power, which is fine, but because of the MC's job, it would lead to some really icky moments of "actually, these oppressors are good, actually!" Which was an issue because, at the time, the only kind of person I could think of who would use this power in this way was this specific job. I had already started working on the plot, so it felt like the core idea was flawed and wouldn't work, which sucked! But I was able to find a solution: instead of actually being an X, he would be an internet/armchair X, he would be sick and tired of the X system and feel that he HAS to do this on his own. It further strengthened the idea of "what sort of person would have this power? Why would they use it?" It gave me a ton of ideas, so that was the last piece I needed to do everything else and slot it all together.

    So yeah, you don't work on characters, plot, and setting independently. Each one will naturally lead to the others. Or your brain will naturally form questions about them, which you should explore. You're also gonna figure things out or change things as you're writing, too. Lots of people fall into the trap that they NEED to figure out everything they think they need about their world before they start writing...but then they end up world building for years and never write. You can design the coolest world ever, but if there's no characters, no conflict, then no one is going to care.
     
    Biggus Beardus likes this.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    7,133
    5,058
    313
    Echoing ChasejxyzChasejxyz here. It's a mistake to think in terms of first second third. Think instead of iteration and dialectic.

    Development--all writing, really--is a dialectic, a conversation among elements. These include world (setting), character, plot, theme, and those two wicked twins, inspiration and frustration. In theory I guess one of those goes first on any given project, but that "first" barely even counts as an idea. They each of them only really get going later, after everyone has had several chances. Like a party, it takes time, persistence, and Fortune.

    It's also iterative. You do a thing that leads to a thing that leads to another thing that causes you to loop back to the first thing which modifies the second thing and creates a fourth thing and off you go. Until you hit one of the thousand snags thrown up along the way. Which causes a change of path, which leads to ... well, you get the idea. Iteration.

    All of which is a writerly, long-winded way of saying, don' worry 'bout it. Dive in head first, crash around. You'll waste time, learn, waste more time, learn some more, unlearn some stuff, and crash on. The only right way is the way you went, for the path you take, once taken, turns out to be unavoidable.
     
    Biggus Beardus likes this.
  6. Biggus Beardus

    Biggus Beardus Acolyte

    7
    3
    3
    Wow! Thanks folks! I appreciate the prompt responses. This is good stuff!
     
  7. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Maester

    605
    287
    63
    I start with the basic premise and theme of the story. I then decide on the setting (time frame, location, technology) and create the main and secondary characters. This brings me back to the story to make adjustments based on the setting and characters.
     
    Biggus Beardus likes this.
  8. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

    969
    513
    93
    What story do you want to tell?

    Start there. Characters and plot and world building will come from that. In what order, depends on how you think.

    I find that one always shapes the others.
     
    Biggus Beardus likes this.
  9. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,863
    1,773
    163
    Splunge! (see Monty Python's Flying Circus)

    All these things can be done at the same time, or not. For me, the whole shebang plays off of each other in such a gear spins gear fashion that they're relatively fluid, except things such as physically drawing the map... although even then, story considerations are being made. Massive world building insanity isn't needed for "one off" stories, lots of plot isn't necessary for a character piece, the world itself could be a character.

    Make a plan, muddle your way through, whatever works, heh heh.
     
    Firefly and Biggus Beardus like this.
  10. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    4,706
    1,668
    163
    Okay...you have a map with a few names on it. You also have a desire to avoid the 'chosen one' or 'monolithic evil' tropes (presumably including the 'dark lord' concept). My suggestion:

    1 - start small. Don't go for the novel at this stage, start with short stories in the 5000 word range. This will let you hone the technical side of writing.

    2 - These short stories can be used to establish characters - maybe your MC, most likely others. They can also be used to do a bit of world building and explore certain themes. Examples -

    The 'chosen one' who turned out to have 'feet of clay,' who proved to be astonishingly incompetent or pointlessly vindictive.

    The 'evil empire' that actually made things better for the nation it conquered - building roads, suppressing bandits, that sort of thing.

    A minor character who undertakes a tour of the various 'dots on the map.' (This might work better as a series). What race dominates each of these places? Customs? Favorite foods? Is magic accepted or banned? Barbarian or civilized? At each location, your character confronts these issues and more, dealing with them through loopholes or knowledge/items from the greater world.

    One other thing (actually, there are a lot of other things, but this one stands out) - Your initial stories, especially the initial drafts of those stories will suck. Likely, you will think they are horrible and should be obliterated. Don't do that. Instead, keep at it. Most of the authors on this site have piles of stories they consider more embarrassing than entertaining. Think of your initial works as practice pieces. Then keep writing.
     
    Biggus Beardus and Ruru like this.
  11. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

    3,138
    2,180
    263
    I'll echo others and say these three—world, characters, plot—can be fairly fluid at the start, playing off each other, inspiring each other, modifying each other.

    But that is an answer to the word develop. I would find it impossible to develop one without developing the others. Best case scenario would be to already have a "good idea" for two of those categories, somewhere in the back of my mind, before I then try to "develop" the third. But even then, I'd find that one area would be forcing me to modify my ideas for the other two areas.

    Again, that answers the question inspired by the word develop. If I had to answer what comes first for me, i.e. what springs to mind first or gets worked over first in my head in some organic fashion, that would be theme. I find I am very moved by themes and always have a strong thematic feel for a story before I have solid ideas for world, characters and plot. I may have to develop those; but theme generally comes to me right away.
     
    Biggus Beardus and Demesnedenoir like this.
  12. Biggus Beardus

    Biggus Beardus Acolyte

    7
    3
    3
    That's a big problem I have right now... I don't have that story that is itching to be told. Honestly, most of my inspiration comes from dungeons and dragons, so my mind is still geared towards creating adventures for the game. It's not the same though.
     
  13. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,863
    1,773
    163
    Well, if you're running campaigns in your world, you've a good start. I used to use a Rolemaster campaign to explore world concepts. The gaming was too open world for story, but it helped build the world.

     
    Biggus Beardus likes this.
  14. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

    532
    510
    93
    As ThinkerX said (and as GRR Martin advises), start with short stories. My experience is that they're the best way of developing your writing and in particular the best way of finding your voice and style. More than that, they require a lot more writing discipline than a full length novel, because you only have a limited number of words in which to develop the story arc and the characters. If you can get thgose two things right in a short story you'll be able to do it at novel length. It's also easier to get feedback on short stories, and sometimes easier to sell them and so establish yourself as a writer.
     
    Biggus Beardus likes this.
  15. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,863
    1,773
    163
    I'll disagree to a point. It's one way, but I think shorts are a different discipline. If your goal is writing novels, write novels. One could easily alter that to "master the chapter" and it would make more sense to me. More discipline to write shorts? I'll disagree there as well.

     
    Biggus Beardus and FifthView like this.
  16. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

    3,138
    2,180
    263
    Short stories are one route, but we could take that advice a step back and relate it directly to the original question by suggesting "shorts" or test scenes—sketches, really—involving the initial main characters, general story/plot ideas, and starting world. It is a bit like outlining, but through sketching the basics via a series of shorts involving these things. You can always expand and include some of these in the novel later or discard some. Either way, this might help you figure out what you want to do with your novel.

    I'll agree that short stories are a different discipline, and like Demesnedenoir, I wonder whether focusing on perfecting the short story format might be a distraction. I know it's the traditional advice to start with short stories. I do believe that general storytelling, along with style and voice discovery, can be a benefit of the discipline. But I'm not sure those were the intended target of the OP, and I think it could be a sidetrack going nowhere unless writing short stories is also a goal.
     
    Biggus Beardus likes this.
  17. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

    532
    510
    93
    I think perhaps that you and Demesnedoir have missed the real point about short stories. They are hard to write because they are short - you have to get the story arc and characterisation right. These are basics for all good writing. As an example, take Fredrik Brown's short story "Answer". Only 254 words. A clear story arc, and characters which are actually developed. The writing is so good that the hints he gives are enough to let you see the characters and motivations. It's brilliant.

    Yes, that story would work at novel length, in fact it would work really well as a true novel. You could further develop all those aspects that only get hinted at, the philosophical, moral and ethical questions around the problem they're trying to answer. The characters' fears and motivations, and their expected rewards. And then the twist at the end...

    But, even at novel length you still need the story arc he set up and the characteristation that he has developed.
     
    Biggus Beardus likes this.
  18. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

    3,138
    2,180
    263
    Well now, it could be the same, if you want it to be. Pure fantasy adventure tales are almost an endangered species these days, and I'm suddenly hankering for some. You could design one much like you would design a D&D game as dungeon master—except, you'd need to imagine a set of funny/interesting characters to run through your adventure.

    I forgot who gave this advice, might have been Orson Scott Card, but when you have a general idea you want to write a tale but no specifics, then just dig deep into your mental history and find all those things lurking behind this desire to write. There are tropes, themes, character archetypes, world elements, and so forth that you've always loved; choose from this list. It's a lot like a kid playing with plastic figures. Or, heh, maybe die cast figures for D&D. Just pick up the ones you like most and have them bang heads and swords while, collectively, they are facing your imagined threats during an adventure.
     
    Biggus Beardus likes this.
  19. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

    3,138
    2,180
    263
    Again, that's one route.

    It's not the only route. You can develop those things while learning how to write a novel, also.

    I don't think a novel is merely an expanded short story, either. "You could further develop all those aspects that only get hinted at, the philosophical, moral and ethical questions around the problem they're trying to answer." These other things may well be equally important, or perhaps more important, than the particular characterization, world building, and plotting of a novel.

    Learning how to write a short story can certainly help in a general way, but this doesn't mean it's a required step, imo. A novel has concerns a short story entirely avoids...almost by design, heh.

     
    Biggus Beardus likes this.
  20. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

    532
    510
    93
    I have a feeling I'm being unclear. The reason so many writers say start with short stories is because you have to think them through. The real art in short story writing is knowing what to leave out, so that the story arc and characters work without the story being too long. That is where the writing discipline starts - it's like Puck's 600 word writing challenge.

    BUT, you can only leave things out or hint at them if you know they are there. In short, you have to have developed the characters and story arc (and, often, the setting) before you start writing your short story. And they need to be developed in some depth if you're to produce a really good short story.

    This is why I love writing short stories - and why I hate writing them. That balance between brevity and hints is really hard. Novels are in that sense so much easier, especially if you've learned to develop things before you start writing. And as developing things is a necessity for a good short story, we're pretty much back where I tried to come in.
     
    Biggus Beardus likes this.
Loading...

Share This Page