• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

Total Noob here

What should I develop first?


  • Total voters
    8
  • Poll closed .

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
>Which brings me here with my original problem: what do I develop first?

Same answer as before - it's iterative. And more complex than that. A good starting point for me is not for you. What was good last time isn't next time.

It's more a case of where *you* start *this * time.

But you've already started, right? Is this more a case of what to do next? Are you feeling stuck? It sounds like it to me. Specifically, stuck on conflict.

Do you have an MC? What does he want? Not what you want him to do, but what he wants?
 
I need conflict... the protagonist's problem... the call to adventure. My characters are a little flat without it and no plot comes to mind. I know of "things" I want the characters to do, but there's still no real conflict/problem. As I try to figure out the conflict, I keep coming across setting questions I need to answer. Which brings me here with my original problem: what do I develop first?

I'd mentioned before, and will reiterate again, that I generally have a good idea of theme before I begin working out other things. Theme can tie everything together. Knowing the theme can help you figure out the conflict or problem. Aspects of the world, character issues, and plot can all be developed more easily when you know the theme—because they'll all play off of, and reinforce, the theme.

Even a general idea of theme can help you get started. Is this a redemption arc tale? A slide into the dark side? A revolutionary overthrow of the horrible status quo? Love lost—or love gained? Navigating the confusing world to emerge strong and confident? (I.e., coming of age?) The list of possible themes goes on and on. What interests you most? Once you've figured this out, you can select other elements that will help you give the theme real flesh and bones. Theme is not the only helpful initial condition, but it is one helpful initial condition.

Edit: I'll add a link to an older forum post here: Throughlines

A throughline can also be helpful when conceiving a story. That link is a long and winding exploration of the idea, but it was inspired by an episode of a podcast you might find interesting: 131 – Throughlines
 
Last edited:

Mad Swede

Maester
You seem to be making the argument that in order to write and publish a well-received novel you need writing experience, not that you need to write short stories, which was the previous assertion.
No, I was arguing that Skip's examples were a little misleading, since they could be taken to imply that you don't need writing experience before trying to write a novel.

Yes, some people can write successful first novels based on prior writing experience like producing academic research papers. A very few can even produce a novel with no prior writing experince at all. But they're very few and very very far between.

But I will stand by my assertion that writing a few short stories is essential. It's like writing a doctoral thesis. You wouldn't dream of suggesting to an undergraduate straight out of high school that they start on a thesis and "see how it goes". No, first you teach them and help them learn how to research and how to develop arguments. You help them develop an interest in some subject matter. And you teach them how to write and how to structure their arguments, through essays and then on to academic papers. All the way through a Bachelors degree and then often through a Masters. Then they're ready for the PhD.

Writing a novel is similar - and I speak from experience of both. You've got to be able to structure the novel, develop it's story arcs, setting and characters. You can't hope to succeed without practice, without developing your writing skills. And I say the best way is to write short stories first.

But as we're clearly agreeing to disagree maybe we should wrap this particular discussion at this point?
 

Mad Swede

Maester
Thanks for your input! Characters aren't really my problem. I mean, I still need to develop them in detail, but I can come up with characters relatively easy. If you were talking about turning a D&D group of players into a story, its been done multiple times and it's not my thing. But thanks for the idea!

I do use character inspiration from my D&D characters. ;)

I need conflict... the protagonist's problem... the call to adventure. My characters are a little flat without it and no plot comes to mind. I know of "things" I want the characters to do, but there's still no real conflict/problem. As I try to figure out the conflict, I keep coming across setting questions I need to answer. Which brings me here with my original problem: what do I develop first?

I appreciate you taking the time to respond.
Maybe you just need to write a few of the scenes where these characters do what you want them to do. See how they turn out. See if you can link them. See if you can find som underlying theme or reason for their actions. That may answer some of your questions, and it may give you some idea of your conflict.

When I write I always write the opening scene first, and then write the key scenes. For my first novel I knew what I wanted to happen, I could see the story arcs. I could also see the potential for several subsequent novels, even if their forms and themes were unclear. And as I wrote the first novel, the overall story arc behind it all, the one which now links the various novels, began to take form. Almost in time with the characters working out what was going on in the first novel.

So I'd suggest just writing a few of those scenes. See where it takes you.
 
Thanks for your input! Characters aren't really my problem. I mean, I still need to develop them in detail, but I can come up with characters relatively easy. If you were talking about turning a D&D group of players into a story, its been done multiple times and it's not my thing. But thanks for the idea!

I do use character inspiration from my D&D characters. ;)

I need conflict... the protagonist's problem... the call to adventure. My characters are a little flat without it and no plot comes to mind. I know of "things" I want the characters to do, but there's still no real conflict/problem. As I try to figure out the conflict, I keep coming across setting questions I need to answer. Which brings me here with my original problem: what do I develop first?

I appreciate you taking the time to respond.
So start with what your characters are doing. Write about that. Don't worry about the rest of it.

Then, if it still seems flat to you, ask why they're doing what they're doing. Speculate. Come up with absurd reasons and serious reasons and anything in between, whatever catches your fancy.

Conflict doesn't always mean major conflict. It can be as simple as going out to fly a kite and finding that there's either too little wind or not enough. Or the kite (flying toy) gets attacked by a kite (bird). Or it crashes into a tree a la Charlie Brown. Or something like that.

Winnie the Pooh isn't exactly a conflict story either - what there is of that is always resolved by the end of the chapter - but its characters are anything but flat.
 
Yes, some people can write successful first novels based on prior writing experience like producing academic research papers. A very few can even produce a novel with no prior writing experince at all. But they're very few and very very far between.

But I will stand by my assertion that writing a few short stories is essential. It's like writing a doctoral thesis. You wouldn't dream of suggesting to an undergraduate straight out of high school that they start on a thesis and "see how it goes". No, first you teach them and help them learn how to research and how to develop arguments. You help them develop an interest in some subject matter. And you teach them how to write and how to structure their arguments, through essays and then on to academic papers. All the way through a Bachelors degree and then often through a Masters. Then they're ready for the PhD.

Writing a novel is similar - and I speak from experience of both. You've got to be able to structure the novel, develop it's story arcs, setting and characters. You can't hope to succeed without practice, without developing your writing skills. And I say the best way is to write short stories first.
Probably the most succesful current fantasy author, Brandon Sanderson, never wrote short stories. He started directly with novels. He did write 5 of them before he got published, so he also practiced, just with novels instead of short stories. (Yes, technically he wrote 12 before getting a publishing deal, but it was number 6 which sold).

I personally wouldn't start with short stories, unless you like reading (and writing) them. They are very different from a novel. 75k words is a lot to fill and getting all those words on the page takes very different skills from writing a short. A much better place to start is a novella. 20k-40k words is manageable, even if you write slow. It's something like 300 words per day for 3 months. That's manageable. And you need a lot of the same skills as when writing a novel. There's the longer character arcs, the scenes where you need to get from A to B (either in place, time or story), the descriptions, the amount of characters you can have and all that. In many ways a novel is just a more complex novella with longer story and character arcs and more characters. A short story is a very different beast.

As for where to start, just pick one of them and work on that. If you get some inspiration for some of the others then write that down and work on that for a bit. Let it grow together.

Also, for your first story it doesn't matter al that much. Your first story is more about learning your process and getting the hang of writing than about creating a masterpiece. Compare it to learning to play the piano. The first time you sit behind a piano you don't try to play a complete symphony. You practice a bit and try a few things to see what you like. And this is different for all writers. Some writers write without much planning ahead of time. They just grab a few interesting characters and put them in an interesting situation and see where that leads them. Others write out a 20.000 word outline for their story and only then start writing. And there is pretty much anything in between, with writers creating a 2 sentence outline for each chapter, or creating detailed character descriptions but no plot or a lot of worldbuilding. Try a few things and see what happens.

Same with actually writing it by the way. Some people start on page 1 and just write until they come to the end. Others write the scenes they like and see how they fit together afterwards. Some will write all scenes for a single view point character in order and then go to the next character.

My advice would be to take a limited time for the planning stage if you want to get a novel written. Give yourself something like 1 month in which you develop your world, setting, characters and plot, and after that start writing and see what happens. If you get stuck, try a different method. And remember that you can't write a novel in a day (well, most people can't), but getting a few hundred words in each day will get you a novel at some point. (Just 250 words a day gives you a 90.000 word novel in a year...).
 

Vafnir

Scribe
I am sooo glad this thread was made. I was about to post a thread with the exact same problem, but I think I've found the answers to most of my questions in here already.
This thread is already a couple days old, but I hope it's still okay to share my experience with my current WIP:

As Penpilot described it quite neatly, I had a spark in the form of a character or a conflict (I don't quite remember which came first. I believe it was a character for the first book and a conflict for a potential sequel). I wrote some ideas and thoughts which would develop my spark into something more. Whether it was a character or a conflict, I asked myself some questions accordingly:
Character - Some basic questions about the character's identity, personality, including basic information such as name, age, origin, physical appearance etc. Then I asked myself even more questions about the character, but more specific ones: What conflict(s) do I want to put the character through, internally and externally? Where do these conflicts start and continue, so what places will be essential for them? What secondary character will help them solve these conflicts and what is the relationship between the characters, how do they meet? What are the conflicts of the secondary characters? Who will try to prevent the characters from solving their conflicts, and what are their motivations to do so? By that, I came into a kind of a chain reaction of ideas that gave me a picture of my characters, world and plot.

It was similar when I had an idea for a conflict: Who do I want to put through this conflict? Where and how could the conflict start and end? What could help the character solve their conflict, what could make the conflict worse? By that, I already had a picture in my head of how the story should start and potentially end, as well as some ideas for scenes in-between, worldbuilding and plot included, as well as some important characters.

I am still a newbie and am writing my first ever novel (kind of a late bloomer here), so I assume my approach isn't perfect. It seems to work for me so far, though.
 
There is no perfection, only what works for you and (hopefully) the story. My unintentional process is really about story, while characters tend to be what is needed to achieve the story. When it comes to characters, I'm a severe discovery writer. Some of my readers' favorite characters just "appeared" while I was writing and then I fleshed them out. A few have gone on to become POV characters, LOL.\

Despite being an old-time gamer, I find character sheets pointless. I used to try and do these things... and, NO. In fact, I plan very little, but it all seems to work out in the end, heh heh. Character sheets, outlines, pretty much all planning except maps seem to stifle my creativity rather than move me along.
 
Last edited:
One very nice resource for beginners is the Youtube series of the Brandon Sanderson university lectures. He gives an introductory course on writing Science Fiction & Fantasy. It covers a lot of ground and gives you a nice basis for digging deeper. It's worth checking out. (Just keep in mind that the first one starts of a bit slow, as these kinds of things tend to do).
 
Yeah, even if I hated Sanderson's writing (which I don't) I would still love the guy for making his BYU lectures available, and all the other author outreach he does.

One very nice resource for beginners is the Youtube series of the Brandon Sanderson university lectures. He gives an introductory course on writing Science Fiction & Fantasy. It covers a lot of ground and gives you a nice basis for digging deeper. It's worth checking out. (Just keep in mind that the first one starts of a bit slow, as these kinds of things tend to do).
 
I looked at the date on your post, I'm hoping you still aren't stuck, but your post is EXACTLY where I am. Nothing is developed yet, and I'm struggling with concept, world building, and a basic outline. I wiped what i was working on and now I'm starting fresh. AH! Help!




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!
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
>your post is EXACTLY where I am. Nothing is developed yet,

Sure. FWIW, the struggle happens for me with every single damn book (though I never wipe anything out, I just archive it, which comes to much the same thing). It's always a struggle.

But you can find points of entry. Let's pretend you had not wiped what you were working on. What was it that started you in the first place? A world? A character? A plot idea? What did you find attractive about it?

This doesn't have to be anything grand. My current project is nothing more than trying to find out if I could write a fantasy mystery. Pretty thin ice on which to try out skating. But it's like hitting a chord and seeing where you might go with it on a guitar or piano. Might not go anywhere. But you did pick that one chord, didn't you?

The points of entry are the ones I mentioned: plot, character, setting. To that you could add theme (I want to do grimdark!). Chances are, your original notion only touched on one of these, and you expected it to carry you forward, but you didn't pay enough attention to the other elements of story telling. Go back to you previous idea, or pick another one. Doesn't matter. Somewhere in there you'll find some hooks--not what hooks the reader, but what hooks you as the writer. Then you can start thinking about beginning and ends ... and the great swampy middle.
 
I would add 1 element to skip.knox 's list of plot, setting and character, and that is conflict. Conflict is the glue that holds the other elements together.

If you have a story idea you will have at least one of these elements. Not fully, but part of it. Maybe you have a scene in your head, or a character, or you want to tell a certain kind of story, or have a world where this one thing is possible.

Take that idea and recognize it for what it is, a seed from which the rest of the story can grow. In some cases it might only grow into a short story, in others it could become a 10 part series. Doesn't matter. Take that seed and nurture it. Think about it and expand on it.

As an example. Maybe you have an image of an elderly wizard in a tower who receives a visitor who wants to take him back to the capital, and the wizard refuses. That's a scene which gives some info on the world (there's wizards in it, there's a capital etc). There's some character in it (the wizard). And the seeds of conflict (he doesn't want to go, but probably has to for some reason). Note, there's no actual plot in here. Now, take that and expand on it. Think about each of the elements a bit and write down what you come up with. When you get stuck on one part, try thinking of one of the other parts.

Just one way of doing it.
 
For 2 solid months I had 3 main characters, fairly well developed, a world not super detailed, but it was there, and I was so excited about what I had started with. The relationships between the 3 characters was strong, the background the main character was strong, and I had a type of plot twist at the end. Then one day I just thought man, theres no way I can write this. It will just seem like any other fantasy story out there and I got stuck on inciting incidents. the plot got me! But to be honest I got incredibly overwhelmed with all the information and research ive been doing. How can I make time to not only read fiction, but develop A, B, C ---- Z when all the thoughts keep coming and coming and its just a mess. Anyway thanks for letting me vent.




[/QUOTE]
But you can find points of entry. Let's pretend you had not wiped what you were working on. What was it that started you in the first place? A world? A character? A plot idea? What did you find attractive about it?

This doesn't have to be anything grand. My current project is nothing more than trying to find out if I could write a fantasy mystery. Pretty thin ice on which to try out skating. But it's like hitting a chord and seeing where you might go with it on a guitar or piano. Might not go anywhere. But you did pick that one chord, didn't you?

The points of entry are the ones I mentioned: plot, character, setting. To that you could add theme (I want to do grimdark!). Chances are, your original notion only touched on one of these, and you expected it to carry you forward, but you didn't pay enough attention to the other elements of story telling. Go back to you previous idea, or pick another one. Doesn't matter. Somewhere in there you'll find some hooks--not what hooks the reader, but what hooks you as the writer. Then you can start thinking about beginning and ends ... and the great swampy middle.[/QUOTE]
 
Top