Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

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Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#1 Post by nerupuff » Sun Oct 07, 2018 4:49 am

Hi all!

I'm in a bit of a slump with writing for personal project of mine that I want to turn into a VN. I really want to know other people do the entire story writing process. I know some people always do the plot first with a general outline for the flow of events. I'm left to wonder when writers actually start world-building for their stories.

Currently, I'm building the world that the story will take place in first. I was thinking that this new approach for me might help get me out of this rut since I've never prioritized making a world first before I introduce the characters and their roles/what will happen. Perhaps making a solid world with cultures, belief systems, and politics would further aid in plot development afterwards or something?

Do other writers start with something that isn't the plot or the universe where it takes place? Do some start with creating characters before making a story for them?

I'd appreciate if anyone would share their own insights. Thank you!
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#2 Post by Mammon » Sun Oct 07, 2018 6:01 am

The best way would be both at once. The story needs some kind of world to take place in, and the world would need some kind of story to happen once it's set in motion. In the best case, the two will dictate one another. You've got an avatar and a fire nation, and a general plot about how the avatar needs to learn all the elements to defeat the emperor? Well, that creates the need for a world that has a nation and a few other nations to be conquered by that nation. And fire and earth bending can quickly form some cultural and traditional additions; one has an abundance of energy to kickstart their technological development with, while the other has the means to quickly build sturdy and lasting houses that allow for far and quick spreading of steady settlements that can maintain their traditional cultures without centralised city-scaping because spreading out and bringing walls and castles to a region is a lot easier for them. And voila, you've got yourself two big nations. Using these nations, you can now begin further developing the plot that will be happening in them.

That said, this is pretty difficult to do if you don't know where to start. I'd say; find something of a plot idea, then pick a world, then adapt the plot to the world you made and make the situation you created form the events, and then plot a bit more until you reach the conclusion. Never say 'there's this absolutely evil empire and these definately good rebels' because that's just stereotypical and bland. Instead make there be a good reason for the empire to be powerful, necessary and doing what they're doing for reasons that aren't 'cause we're evil and greedy'.
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#3 Post by nerupuff » Sun Oct 07, 2018 7:29 am

Mammon wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 6:01 am
The best way would be both at once. The story needs some kind of world to take place in, and the world would need some kind of story to happen once it's set in motion. In the best case, the two will dictate one another. You've got an avatar and a fire nation, and a general plot about how the avatar needs to learn all the elements to defeat the emperor? Well, that creates the need for a world that has a nation and a few other nations to be conquered by that nation. And fire and earth bending can quickly form some cultural and traditional additions; one has an abundance of energy to kickstart their technological development with, while the other has the means to quickly build sturdy and lasting houses that allow for far and quick spreading of steady settlements that can maintain their traditional cultures without centralised city-scaping because spreading out and bringing walls and castles to a region is a lot easier for them. And voila, you've got yourself two big nations. Using these nations, you can now begin further developing the plot that will be happening in them.
I love the Avatar: Legend of Aang reference. Breaking that down kind of helped me visualize the perspective I have to take. So far, I do have a plot, and I do have the concept of the setting, so I've been fixing up the world based on what the plot needs. I'm trying to not be too reliant on the plot itself though, because I don't want the world I make to seem too convenient for the story that takes place. I think it's just been hard trying to work on both of them together, so I have to allot the workload for each aspect. I'll do my best!
Mammon wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 6:01 am
Never say 'there's this absolutely evil empire and these definately good rebels' because that's just stereotypical and bland. Instead make there be a good reason for the empire to be powerful, necessary and doing what they're doing for reasons that aren't 'cause we're evil and greedy'.
This is quite sound advice. I'm gonna think of more reasons why antagonists would antagonize. This entire project is gonna need a whole lot of backstory. :mrgreen:

Really appreciate the response, Mammon. Thank you!
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#4 Post by KrunchyFriedGames » Sun Oct 07, 2018 7:56 am

I agree with Mammon that you should be thinking of your world and characters at the same time, but I'd suggest very slightly prioritising characters, and asking questions of them which can be answered in the world

What is the character's personality? How is this reflected in the world?
The character is lazy, unconventional, poor- so he goes to the supermarket at night to buy milk with a cheque (contemporary- The Dude, THe Big Lebowski)
The character is lazy, unconventional, poor- so he eats curries and plays video game porn on a spaceship with no real clue where he's going (sci-fi, Lister, Red Dwarf)
The character is lazy, scruffy, cowardly- so he spends his time trying to avoid being sent on dangerous quests involving monsters and barbarians, so he can enjoy sleeping, big meals and having the odd smoke (fantasy, Rincewind, Discworld)

In all cases, these similar protagonists are motivated by the desire to lead a quiet life, and the plots revolve around the characters not being able to do this because of elements in the three different worlds:

The Big Lebowski: Thugs come and disrupt The Dude's home life, and he's sent reluctantly on a ransom mission involving rich California businessmen.
Red Dwarf: Lister's happiness is compromised by an officious and pretentious technician, embittered by his constant failure to pass astronavigation exams (not to mention, all the dangerous aliens).
Rincewind's happiness is compromised by the senior wizards sending him off on heroic fantasy quests.

Personally, prioritising the world isn't an approach I'd favour, as it risks info dumping and cluttering the story with information that isn't that useful (i.e. not relevant to the characters), but then I'm not much of a sci-fi fan, so this is just my preference. I do find pretty much all good writing is centred around the around the characters, though (even in highly political books with very different worlds, like 1984, the characters' motivations take priority).
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#5 Post by nerupuff » Sun Oct 07, 2018 8:28 am

KrunchyFriedGames wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 7:56 am
In all cases, these similar protagonists are motivated by the desire to lead a quiet life, and the plots revolve around the characters not being able to do this because of elements in the three different worlds.
I'm really appreciating all these familiar references. Thank you for including Discworld, KrunchyFriedGames! I like how you related a character's goals/personalities being restricted by his current environment and its different elements. I'll try to adopt that sort of mindset as well.
KrunchyFriedGames wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 7:56 am
Personally, prioritising the world isn't an approach I'd favour, as it risks info dumping and cluttering the story with information that isn't that useful (i.e. not relevant to the characters), but then I'm not much of a sci-fi fan, so this is just my preference. I do find pretty much all good writing is centred around the around the characters, though (even in highly political books with very different worlds, like 1984, the characters' motivations take priority).
To each their own, I suppose. I just don't want to end up having to make something up on the spot when I'm finally writing the VN script itself if I ever encounter a scene that needs more from the world setting than what I already have.

I feel that having a polished world would help me dictate the flow of events. I'm not going to outright dump all of the info about the world in the script (only when it's necessary! :mrgreen: ), but it seems nice to have everything in place. It's a fun activity too. I will, however, take note of prioritizing the characters. There will be a lot of backstory and character development, indeed. ^^

Thank you for your thoughts! I appreciate them.
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#6 Post by KrunchyFriedGames » Sun Oct 07, 2018 8:50 am

nerupuff wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 8:28 am

To each their own, I suppose. I just don't want to end up having to make something up on the spot when I'm finally writing the VN script itself if I ever encounter a scene that needs more from the world setting than what I already have.

I feel that having a polished world would help me dictate the flow of events. I'm not going to outright dump all of the info about the world in the script (only when it's necessary! :mrgreen: ), but it seems nice to have everything in place. It's a fun activity too. I will, however, take note of prioritizing the characters. There will be a lot of backstory and character development, indeed. ^^
Good point! I suppose how you go about drafting/ creating a story and the end result are two different things altogether.
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#7 Post by nerupuff » Sun Oct 07, 2018 9:07 am

KrunchyFriedGames wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 8:50 am
Good point! I suppose how you go about drafting/ creating a story and the end result are two different things altogether.
True! I'm sure a lot of people have different methods to reach the end of the writing process. I'm just extremely curious what other things writers do to make their ideas into a reality. ^^
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#8 Post by Mammon » Sun Oct 07, 2018 2:44 pm

nerupuff wrote:So far, I do have a plot, and I do have the concept of the setting, so I've been fixing up the world based on what the plot needs. I'm trying to not be too reliant on the plot itself though, because I don't want the world I make to seem too convenient for the story that takes place. I think it's just been hard trying to work on both of them together, so I have to allot the workload for each aspect. I'll do my best!
This is quite sound advice. I'm gonna think of more reasons why antagonists would antagonize. This entire project is gonna need a whole lot of backstory. :mrgreen:
One way to make the world feel more alive is to add anything that doesn't conflict with the plot which can be added easily. Not strange floaty CGI things like in hollywood films that are trying to make things feel more alive but which only confuse and desensitise the audience, but things that seem to have depth to them or make a world more vibrant like Harry Potter. If you're writing dialogue and banter, developing your characters, any time that you're not on plot really, you could see if there's anything that you can tell the audience about the world that isn't exposition and doesn't feel at all relevant to the plot itself.

About your bad guys, they don't have to have a great reason or something that will redeem them. Someone might still be part of a bunch of fanatics because they hate an ethnicity and see no moral dilemma rounding them up, but those people may still have a family that they think is being protected and provided by them doing this. Still evil, but they themselves wouldn't see themselves as such. Same for an organisation, go for one that makes a profit rather than one that's just evil for evil's sake like Star War's new empire.
nerupuff wrote:To each their own, I suppose. I just don't want to end up having to make something up on the spot when I'm finally writing the VN script itself if I ever encounter a scene that needs more from the world setting than what I already have.
I feel that having a polished world would help me dictate the flow of events. I'm not going to outright dump all of the info about the world in the script (only when it's necessary! :mrgreen: ), but it seems nice to have everything in place. It's a fun activity too. I will, however, take note of prioritizing the characters. There will be a lot of backstory and character development, indeed. ^^
[/quote]Most definately. I myself have written out the world of my current story way more than it would have to. Every country has some kind of political presence and importance that forms the international field, even if they don't even get a single second of screentime in the VN itself. (Click that little rose in the signiature, you know you want to~ Every country in that map in the OP has their own history.)

Create a world you can fall back on, create some factions that won't play any factor in it. By adding some people significant enough to register and potentially intervene when your bad guys do something, you can get your own sense of how far they could and would go. Just make sure that this isn't overnarrated and potentially even never mentioned in the script, the audience doesn't have to know.
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#9 Post by nerupuff » Mon Oct 08, 2018 10:21 am

Mammon wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 2:44 pm
About your bad guys, they don't have to have a great reason or something that will redeem them. Someone might still be part of a bunch of fanatics because they hate an ethnicity and see no moral dilemma rounding them up, but those people may still have a family that they think is being protected and provided by them doing this. Still evil, but they themselves wouldn't see themselves as such. Same for an organisation, go for one that makes a profit rather than one that's just evil for evil's sake like Star War's new empire.
I do suppose humanizing bad guys make them somewhat relatable. If anything, perhaps getting a reader to sympathize with a villain means that I might be doing a good job. Not sure. But I'll definitely put that on my plate when writing! In most of the games I play, I do like it when a villain isn't just purely evil just to fit a villain role, so I'll have to remember your advice.
Mammon wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 2:44 pm
Most definately. I myself have written out the world of my current story way more than it would have to. Every country has some kind of political presence and importance that forms the international field, even if they don't even get a single second of screentime in the VN itself. (Click that little rose in the signiature, you know you want to~ Every country in that map in the OP has their own history.)

Create a world you can fall back on, create some factions that won't play any factor in it. By adding some people significant enough to register and potentially intervene when your bad guys do something, you can get your own sense of how far they could and would go. Just make sure that this isn't overnarrated and potentially even never mentioned in the script, the audience doesn't have to know.
I fell for it. Clicked the button. I do like what I saw! I'll reply to that thread soon too, when I manage to read up on everything. Amazed with the map you have for the game. It must have taken a whole lot of work to write individual histories. I'm thinking of making a separate feature in the VN I plan, probably a "journal" feature where the player can just click and read any history/world info for increased lore and immersion. :mrgreen: Y'know, just so that I don't overload actual dialogue and general gameplay with lore and stuff. ^^

Thank you as always, Mammon!
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#10 Post by MI_Buddy » Mon Oct 08, 2018 8:55 pm

Totally agree with Mammon and KrunchyFriedGames on developing story and character together.

A technique that could help you in that process is the "Why" question. For example, maybe you're developing out your story and Susie needs to be driven to kill Bob.

Sometimes you're just at a point where you're like "I need this to happen!" but you don't have the "why" yet. What you can do is write out the data points you need, and then answer "why" for it, and then "why" for any questions that come from that. Let's go with the data point "Susie wants to kill Bob":

////////////////
SUSIE WANTS TO KILL BOB

Why does Susie want to kill Bob?
She hates that Bob reminds her of herself.

Why does Bob remind Susie of herself?
Bob always loved life and enjoys meeting new people, and is loved and accepted by everyone. Susie used to love life just as much and be just as interested in meeting new people, but everyone she thought loved and accepted her betrayed her when her father disowned her. They had just loved her because they wanted to get in good graces with her father and family.

Susie can't stand to see this happen again. And she has the idea that killing Bob will save him from her realization that she can't pound into his head. If he changed, she'd stop being driven to kill him.

Why doesn't Susie focus on trying to change Bob's mind instead of killing him?
She doesn't believe she can. She thinks she figured out that people will reject and hate you because she's smarter than others, and every time something goes well for Bob she both feels envy and feels sure that his downfall is every closer- so she's determined to save him and herself from the pain.

Why does Susie believe this will help her feel better?
It's what her mother did to her father shortly after he disowned her. And her mother told her, "This is what you do for people you love, darling. (more dialogue, this is getting really dark so I'm gonna stop this here :`D)"

Susie believes it's her job to stop the people she loves. And she both cares about Bob and hates him because she sees herself in him, and so she feels it's her responsibility to stop him from his false belief that people sincerely love him and care about him.
////////////////

Her line of reasoning and her motives are twisted in many ways- but that's often how dysfunctions are.

The "why" method is my favorite because it accomplishes a few things:
1. Develops backstory
2. Helps you get to characters' core motivations (important for writing them believably; I feel like Susie up there is still far from fleshed out, but it's an example)
3. Fits the character into the role you need them to fill for the story

I hope this helps! Let me know if you're interested in other techniques too. :D
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#11 Post by Mammon » Tue Oct 09, 2018 5:05 am

nerupuff wrote:I do suppose humanizing bad guys make them somewhat relatable. If anything, perhaps getting a reader to sympathize with a villain means that I might be doing a good job. Not sure. But I'll definitely put that on my plate when writing! In most of the games I play, I do like it when a villain isn't just purely evil just to fit a villain role, so I'll have to remember your advice.
Whoops, must've explained it wrong or too vague. I meant that just because they have something that isn't pure evil, they don't have to be redeemed. Not every villain who has a daughter will eventually turn out to be kind-hearted and redeem themselves halfway the story. It's a cliche that the people have gotten too used to and can be very tired of. Urgh, this villain is sooo obviously not completely evil and it's soooo predictable that they'll eventually team up with the heroes like in so many other stories. You can make some of those, but remember that not every villain has to be humanised to a point of no longer being a bad guy but an anti-villain.
nerupuff wrote:Amazed with the map you have for the game. It must have taken a whole lot of work to write individual histories. I'm thinking of making a separate feature in the VN I plan, probably a "journal" feature where the player can just click and read any history/world info for increased lore and immersion. :mrgreen: Y'know, just so that I don't overload actual dialogue and general gameplay with lore and stuff. ^^
Ha! That's exactly what I'm planning to do, to just dump all that history into a menu feature that the audience can open any time. You want exposition? *Dumps 50 pages of exposition on the player*
The map isn't too difficult however, you should give it a try yourself! Anyone can do it, regardless of how well they can draw other things. It just comes down to making the lines really wriggly, and your mind will think that it's real good and complicated by being unable to process it all in one glance. Just take a piece of paper and make some random blobs for your countries, make them slightly more defined and then make some real wriggly hard lines along those thin lines. Start with the coastline, then the borders, then forests and mountains, then the cities, then the roads. And if you have the patience, then throw it into a digital drawing tool and trace over it.
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#12 Post by nerupuff » Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:55 am

MI_Buddy wrote:
Mon Oct 08, 2018 8:55 pm
The "why" method is my favorite because it accomplishes a few things:
1. Develops backstory
2. Helps you get to characters' core motivations (important for writing them believably; I feel like Susie up there is still far from fleshed out, but it's an example)
3. Fits the character into the role you need them to fill for the story

I hope this helps! Let me know if you're interested in other techniques too. :D
MI_Buddy, this is extremely helpful for the mapping out the story! I've been thinking of so many "whys" now that I really have to remind myself to list the answers done and not just keep it in my brain. Thank you! :mrgreen: I feel like things will go well if I keep using this! ^^
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#13 Post by nerupuff » Tue Oct 09, 2018 10:05 am

Mammon wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 5:05 am
I meant that just because they have something that isn't pure evil, they don't have to be redeemed. Not every villain who has a daughter will eventually turn out to be kind-hearted and redeem themselves halfway the story. It's a cliche that the people have gotten too used to and can be very tired of.
Right, I got it now. :mrgreen: I'm taking notes!
Mammon wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 5:05 am
Ha! That's exactly what I'm planning to do, to just dump all that history into a menu feature that the audience can open any time. You want exposition? *Dumps 50 pages of exposition on the player*
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Mammon wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 5:05 am
The map isn't too difficult however, you should give it a try yourself! Anyone can do it, regardless of how well they can draw other things. It just comes down to making the lines really wriggly, and your mind will think that it's real good and complicated by being unable to process it all in one glance. Just take a piece of paper and make some random blobs for your countries, make them slightly more defined and then make some real wriggly hard lines along those thin lines. Start with the coastline, then the borders, then forests and mountains, then the cities, then the roads. And if you have the patience, then throw it into a digital drawing tool and trace over it.
I'm not too sure my skill level in art will permit me to make such an extravagant map like the one you've done, but I'll definitely try that out. Takes a lot of effort but the effect is quite significant. Now I should include naming countries and provinces into my plan... That's got to be a lot. I suppose making a visual novel by yourself (well, at the moment I suppose) is a labor of love. ^^
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#14 Post by Mutive » Tue Oct 09, 2018 7:09 pm

You can't do any of it on your own.

I actually might start with world building. Your world will influence your characters greatly. Your world will influence the types of plots that are even possible.

I'm currently reading Gone with the Wind. There would be no plot to the story if there was no Civil War. There also wouldn't be much of one if there weren't severe social consequences for divorce, for women acting outside of the social order, etc. etc. The characters also would be wildly different.

(You clearly could try to update the plot to the modern world. But it would be baffling as to why everyone was horrified that Scarlett was starting a business, that pregnancy was dangerous enough to kill people, even that there was a war going on. In fact, the story would probably fall flat as without all that stuff, you basically just have a headstrong woman who's kind of a jerk and in love with some other woman's husband.)
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Re: Writing process: focus on story first vs. world-building first?

#15 Post by Mammon » Wed Oct 10, 2018 3:36 am

nerupuff wrote:I'm not too sure my skill level in art will permit me to make such an extravagant map like the one you've done, but I'll definitely try that out. Takes a lot of effort but the effect is quite significant. Now I should include naming countries and provinces into my plan... That's got to be a lot. I suppose making a visual novel by yourself (well, at the moment I suppose) is a labor of love. ^^
No, really! When I say anyone can do it, then I really mean that this is just a matter of spending enough time completely unrelated to one's skill. Literally.

Take a look at the map again, zoom in to any area and look at just that area. The coast is literally just a wriggly line. The waves are literally just wriggly blue lines following that line. The country colour is just the big brush with fade to the sides effect, within a limited field selected automatically. The land colours are literally just dark green and beige fading brushes onto light green fading brushes onto a pure yellow ground layer. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is actually difficult to do. It just looks like the random lines are some kind of intended pattern because there's so many of them.

The most difficult thing is keeping all the layers separated to make some effects easy. But you can do this, and everything I've done, with pencil and paper, a phone to make a photo of it and send it to the computer, and then any art program (I used the free to use Krita) to digitally trace over it and add some colours.
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