It’s the chicken and the egg question of spec fic: should you make a world and then plot your story in it, or should you create the story and then build the world it’s in? Most storytellers answer this question by beginning with the part that inspires them the most. While a lot of great fantasy and scifi has been made that way, it risks leaving the rest neglected or disorganized.
‘World Showcase’ Stories
Have you ever read or watched a story where the character trotted the globe for.. well, for no reason? Or where the plot felt like a video game: go to one place to fetch a key, then sail across the sea and invade a dungeon to unlock the chest inside, and of course, visit strange places and gain sidekick of each race along the way!
After spending so much time and effort on your world before turning to the story, it can be hard to resist designing your plot around showing it all off. But plots like these feel slow and canned.
Lil’ baby Potter could have been killed by the big bad, but his mother sacrificed herself, giving him powerful magic protection… somehow. After that he went to live with his emotionally abusive Aunt and Uncle. You see, the powerful and mysterious protective magic only worked if he was living with them. This disappeared altogether as soon as he was 17… because it just did.
If you plot the whole story before turning to the world that supports it, the rules of your world may end up feeling arbitrary and contrived.
Build Them Together
The best results come from creating them side by side. Start with a loose concept for your world or story, then develop the other aspect for a while before filling in the details. Your world can inform story choices even as its rules are changed to drive the plot and form the characters.
This process can be tricky when a series of stories are set in the same world, but for every story you can flesh out the world in more detail. Just keep it consistent, and don’t belittle your previous stories by revealing that the big bad was really just the servant of a greater evil.
The end result you want is to make both the story and the world interesting on their own, yet inseparable. You should not be able to extract your story and put it in a different world with different rules, and your world should be different for having the story take place there.
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