World Building vs. Characterization: the Struggle

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nickj47

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Building and revelation are two separate functions.
Important point. IMO story comes first. World and characters are revealed to support the story. I think it was OSC who said there are three types of SF stories: character, setting, and concept. Obviously you can have all three, but one will come out ahead.
 

NINA28

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Hey, very interesting question but I honestly think it's never a good idea to pit one against the other or lean either way. I like to think about the story as a whole and put plenty of thought and time into everything. Characters influence a setting and a setting influences the people in it. I tend to brain storm plot, character and setting separately, then see what ideas I have fit together but I never place one above the other, even though I am more interested in people than setting - to me a book could happen anywhere, it's the people in it that make it worth reading. I totally understand that others feel differently and read for different reasons.
 

Laer Carroll

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Hey, very interesting question but I honestly think it's never a good idea to pit one against the other or lean either way. ... I tend to brain storm plot, character and setting separately, then see what ideas I have fit together but I never place one above the other, even though I am more interested in people than setting - to me a book could happen anywhere, it's the people in it that make it worth reading.

Totally agree. Character, setting, plot are the three legs a story stands on. If any is too short the chair/table/story will be wobbly.

That said, my Space Orphan trilogy breaks that rule. The main character is technically a Mary Sue. (She is a superhuman DESIGNED to be one: brilliant, pretty, charismatic, an "influencer" built to effect social change.) The plot has little conflict. She's mentally and almost physically Supergirl. A fight with her is over quickly. In one scene I have her fight seven men and kill them all. I do it offstage; onstage it would have been torture porn.

Where I put most effort was in the setting. I used all the places I've lived and worked in for 40+ years as an aerospace software and systems engineer. I know these places and people including astronauts and Nobel Prize winners as others know their neighborhood.

I theorize this is what drew people to the books. As of now they've made oodles of money by my modest standards (to my utter surprise). Three weeks in after I self-published on July 1[SUP]st[/SUP] of last year sales began to climb till they leveled out at 60 books a day, a level where it stayed for three months before beginning to slowly die out.

MORAL: Know the rules but be ready to knowingly and carefully break them.
 

abdall

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Character BUILDING and world BUILDING are private functions you carry out. Then in the story itself you do character REVELATION and world REVELATION. Building and revelation are two separate functions.

^^^
I love making new characters and expanding on the world I've built, but it's essential to have a good balance. Having the characters explore the world, or even just be aware of it, is better than just like...an information dump. I've been building my fantasy world for....too long. Not even the world, just one country in this world. It's the country where everything happens, but still.

Also, for world-building so I have a better idea of everything, maps are kind of a godsend. I LOVE looking at maps for writing. If it's not in a world that's relative to our own, making it so I can't look at maps, then I just make one myself. It gives me a better idea of how everything is seen through my characters' eyes. It also gives me a better idea of why and how people from different areas so different. For example, my country is made up of what essentially used to be 4 smaller territories, but most people don't really go to 3/4 of these areas unless they live there. When I built a map my reason for that went from being 'it's hard to get there' to 'one of these places is a big ass desert, there's a huge, difficult to navigate mountain range around the other, and the last is just cold snowy wilderness'. I already knew this, but a map just made it easier to articulate. MAPs!

side note, if you want to make a map, I suggest inkarnate.com, not because it's the best map-making platform I've used, but because it's the ONLY mapmaking platform I've used and it works really well for my needs. I'm sure there are others, but that's just mine. And it's free if you don't wanna pay for it. I mean, I paid for it because I use it all the time, but you don't have to pay for it.
 

Cobalt Jade

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Also, for world-building so I have a better idea of everything, maps are kind of a godsend. I LOVE looking at maps for writing. If it's not in a world that's relative to our own, making it so I can't look at maps, then I just make one myself. It gives me a better idea of how everything is seen through my characters' eyes. It also gives me a better idea of why and how people from different areas so different. For example, my country is made up of what essentially used to be 4 smaller territories, but most people don't really go to 3/4 of these areas unless they live there. When I built a map my reason for that went from being 'it's hard to get there' to 'one of these places is a big ass desert, there's a huge, difficult to navigate mountain range around the other, and the last is just cold snowy wilderness'. I already knew this, but a map just made it easier to articulate. MAPs!

True story: Ursula K. LeGuin was given carte blanche to write a YA novel by a publisher. She began the story by drawing a huge map of the world on a large piece of poster board. That story became A Wizard of Earthsea.
 

Elizabeth George's book Write Away