World building Wednesday – Building a story

There are many ways to develop a story. I know a lot of people do plots first and then create the characters around that. I know others start with characters first and craft the world to fit. Then there are those like me who don’t plan anything ahead other than maybe a vague name and place and go from there. Those last ones are called pantsers, and while I am still one I’m slowly edging my way over to being a planner.

I’ve actually been something in between a pantser and a planner for years now. I have my worlds built and I work my stories into the weave of those worlds. For my fantasy novels I even have a set time line where everything happens. I have the titles of the stories and a one sentence blurb about what’s supposed to go on in them. This list is subject to change, since realistically I’ve changed things so much over the last 20+ years that there’s a good chance it might change again.

Telling stories is something we as writers are trying to do. We’re telling the stories for ourselves, but we are thrilled when others read it and enjoy it as much as we do. Not every writer buys into the philosophy of “write what you love and don’t think about publishing or your story is going to be crap.” I don’t quite agree with that. I believe you need to have a reader in mind as you write, but don’t get hung up in writing what you think people want to read. Write what you want. You can always pick and choose which ones to send out later.

The best way to tell a story is to build it from the ground up. Start with the basics – characters and world. If you’re someone who likes lists, make one with some of these details on it. Don’t agonize over the details in the beginning. You can fill them in as you go. All you want in the beginning is a name and a brief description.

Once you have the basics, start fleshing out the details. Put more descriptions in your world building notes. Add a sentence or two to the character sketches detailing their lives before the story. If you want, draw up actual character sketches using questions like “What’s their favorite color?” or “What car does/would your character drive?” Don’t linger too long on these. Try not to go overboard on all the details. (Trust me, don’t go overboard. I once handed someone a 78 page background on a character of mine because I wrote a story instead of just a few notes. I was restricted to a page or two after that.)

When you’re done, you can start the real work. For planners, that means creating an outline before getting to work on the story. For pantsers, it’s time to dive into the story itself with no planning. For those of us in between it means we have to judge what will work best for the story and go from there.

Building a story is magical. No matter what you write, you are putting words down in a semi-permanent format for someone to read. Whether it’s just you or an entire world audience, the writing is what’s important.

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