Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Person, not the Thing

It's time for yet another episode of "things I should have realized a long time ago."  :P

A while back, I talked about how many of my ideas start from a single point: a person doing a thing.  I'm not sure which entry that was in - I've talked a lot about how I try to get things to work because most of what I've done for the past two years is trying to get things to work.  Trust me, it's out there.  But like everything else that's part of the writing process, I've learned more about this concept as I've worked with it, and recently I've realized something important about it:

The person is what's important, not the thing they're doing.

I've got a project I've been working on that's going reasonably well.  Let's call it Project H, for reasons that would take too long to explain.  Project H started with one single image - a person of a fantasy race doing something people of that race don't usually do.  Something about it struck me, and I knew I wanted to tell her story.  When I started developing the idea, everything came from that image, and it all led toward the main character doing what she needed to do.

Everything I created was for a world where this character could do the forbidden thing that started her story.  But if I'd decided to develop the world in general terms, without knowing who she was, what she was going to do, and why it was forbidden, I would have come up with something completely different.  And odds are good it wouldn't have worked.

This feels like something elementary.  And yet, if I'd realized this months ago, I probably could have saved myself a lot of heartache.

I like world-building, kind of a lot.  Part of the fun of developing STARWIND was coming up with all the different places the crew would go and what those places were like, what had happened to make them what they were.  But I also know that a lot of the trouble I've been having over the past two years stems from not being able to find the story - from having a whole lot of 'where' and 'what', and nowhere near enough 'who'.  Hell, I have a fifty-something page document that's full of seven different attempts to rework a world that's based around what I thought was a great concept.

Only one or two of those attempts has an actual story anywhere in it.  Because I couldn't create a world worth writing in without anyone to live there.

I have something else I'm working on - let's call it Project K, to prevent confusion - which is the first thing I've done since I realized this.  (I didn't realize it all that long ago.)  There's also all kinds of weird world stuff to do with this one, and to make things even stranger, it's a world that has nothing to do with the main character.  But a lot of the design I've been doing has one goal in mind: what do these places need to be to serve the main character's story?

And I'm pleased to say one thing about Project K: so far, so good.  If I have to keep learning stuff that feels like I should have learned long ago, at least I can do it right.


  1. Woot that Project K is going well!

    I don't know that I've ever thought too deep on this. I wonder how my stories read, more about character or more about world. I truly don't know. I do tend to focus on the "what"--what the character has to do and what needs to happen.

    I hope Project K continues to develop well!

    1. Thanks; I hope so too. And I think that who and what and where are all equally important in a story, this was more about me recognizing what I need to focus on when I'm trying to actually figure things out while plotting.

  2. Glad one project is going well.
    I do better with characters and story. Between the two of us, we could come up with a very detailed world, story, and characters!

    1. Possibly. But I don't think I've tried to work with someone else on creating a story since when I first started writing, and if I remember right, I tossed out everything he suggested since I was the one actually doing the writing. >_<