March 9, 2015

Settled the Setting: What now?

Image from Creative Commons
Almost any story can be reduced to three things: Plot, Characters, and Setting.

It is often recommended that you begin with creating characters (their trials and tribulations lead to plot). But, of course, this might be a matter of preference. You can build your world before you designate which characters live in it. If well done, this is bound to give you spectacular results as well.

But when you get to the point where you have built your world and you're now staring at the blank screen, or sheet of paper waiting for the rest to follow, you have hit the "what now" phase and there is no choice but to push through it.

If you have developed your world you have 2 options to continue - Plot or Character. Many people believe that a good place to start for any fiction work is figuring out who your characters are going to be. If you're an "organic" writer this would probably be your first step anyway. For the rest of us outliners though, we might need to slow ourselves down and put some thought into who the characters are rather than what they are or are doing. 

You must ask :

  • Do I want my characters to embody their cultures' ideals or conflict with them?
  • How does coming from X culture influence the way that she thinks or acts or feels?
  • Does my character have to be elite or can a more genuine story be told if it is from the eyes of a commoner / slave / peasant etc. ?
Once you have decided these things you must make your characters interact. Decide how they are all related to one another and develop a past for them. 

Your other option would be to proceed with Plot. This is generally not advised but since writing is completely up to you, feel free to experiment with building your story "out of order". If you already know what cultures (or nations / races) you want to include in your story, consider how you will introduce each. Do you have a favorite? Do you have a least favorite? How you portray them will help determine how your reader relates to them as well. 

If you have decided that you want to include three or four different cultures / clans / nations (etc.), before you pick your characters, thinking about how they will interact with one another can be a good place to start. 

Are all of the cultures rivals? Are some of them allies? Do they live close together (in the same neighborhood or kingdom) or do they each remain in their own territories? Are they pushing the borders or vying for control over a single throne? 

When you figure out the broad plot arc you might find it easier to go back and fill it in with characters. This is probably not the approach that I would take but, who knows, you just might find that it works for you. 

Remember that there is no magical formula for how to write. There are methods that may or may not work for you. Ultimately, discovering not just how to write but how you write is a path that only you can create. It's not supposed to be a stressful process. Whether you obey the "rules" or break them, have fun with it.

Take a moment and let us know! Which comes first for you - plot, characters, or culture/setting?

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