I tend to procrastinate about worldbuilding because it overwhelms me. I’m expected to design an alternate reality that’s as complex and nuanced as my own. Considering the thousands of cultural customs, geographical differences, and historical events attached to every inch of Earth, the task seems too infinite for my finite imagination. Where do I start? How do I determine when to stop? Which ideas should appear in my story, and which should remain archived inside my brain?
Story Embers Head Writer
A long time ago on a hill not so far away, Gabrielle Pollack fell in love. Not with ice cream or cats (though those things are never far from her side) but with storytelling. Since then, she’s been glued to a keyboard and is always in the midst of a writing project, whether a story, blog post, or book. She was a reader before becoming a writer, however, and believes paradise should include thick novels, hot cocoa, a warm fire, and “Do Not Disturb” signs. Her favorite stories include Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn saga and Nadine Brandes’s Out of Time trilogy.
As those who know her will confess, Gabby is a whole lot of weirdness packed into one INFP. Sharp objects, storms, and trees are her friends, along with stubborn characters and, on occasion, actual people. When she’s not writing, she’s shooting arrows through thickets and subsequently missing her target, jamming on the piano, and pushing her cat off her keyboard. She hopes to infuse her fiction with honesty, victory, and hope, and create stories that grip readers from the first page to the last. Her other goals include saving the world and mastering a strange concept called adulthood.
Which is more important: characters or plot? Writers have been locked in that debate for centuries. Plot-oriented writers argue that conflict engages readers. But character-oriented writers insist that readers only care because they relate to the characters. The truth? Both sides are correct because the question is based on a misconception.
I have a confession: trying to find the right words takes me ages. I obsess over sentence structure, vocabulary, and descriptions, pouring my time and energy into the black hole of unnecessary edits. It’s a harmful compulsion, and I know it. The more changes I make, the more I hate my work-in-progress, and the less productive I become. I forget the big picture and throttle my motivation. Worst of all, my creativity ebbs. But restraining myself seems impossible. Can chronic over-editors dare to hope for a cure?
Have you ever loved a relationship more than the characters in it? Sure, Mr. and Mrs. Right were likable on their own, but their dynamic was so compelling that both of them dying would have been less agonizing than one of them surviving. You hope that the pairing in your own story will be equally captivating, but you’re nervous. You’ve gagged when a star-crossed guy and girl spent pages drooling over each other. What if your readers respond negatively too?
For the first six years of my writing life, I didn’t know how to find the exact spot where a story sinks into a bottomless pit of darkness. Nobody around me could agree on which kinds of content deserved an R rating, and I wasn’t sure what my own stance should be. Half of the Christian community claimed that any book containing foul language or violence overexposed audiences to sin. To younger me, this made sense. But the other half of the Christian community cheered over gruesome battles and roguish characters, and they defended those inclusions with the shield and sword of realism. To older me, this seemed like a more progressive approach.
If no one’s ever told you, you’re a liar. And you’re allowed to be proud of it. As storytellers, we’re engaged in a ministry that’s centered around imaginary realities. We carve out mythic spaces and beckon readers to enter in the hopes that they’ll gain a better understanding of themselves, their world, and God’s purpose for them. We’re masters at weaving beautiful lies, but not at ignoring ugly ones.
Worldbuilding and plotting are two separate processes, right? Wrong. Like every component of fiction, story world and plot are interlinked. Or rather, they can be. When you take the effort to use worldbuilding to deepen your plot, your book will feel intentional and whole.
Somewhere along the road, every fiction writer will be asked to participate in a critique. It’s practically a guarantee. Whether you’re new to critiquing or are already teamed up with an epic partner (who should probably read this article too), you should aim to provide the best feedback possible. This can help you grasp facets of the craft that you couldn’t before. Aiding and encouraging others also builds relationships.
The Mandalorian. Artemis Fowl. Dustfinger. Kaz Brekker. These antiheroes and countless others have captured the imaginations of viewers, readers, and fangirls with such ferocity that traditional heroes struggle to compete. But what makes audiences love the cowardly Dustfinger, the calm Mandalorian, and the clever Artemis Fowl? Certainly not their morals, because when we first meet them, they’re far from paragons of virtue.
For years, short stories remained cloaked in mystery for me. I hadn’t the slightest idea how to write one, much less imbue a theme into it. I stumbled in the dark, creating tales and hoping themes would magically appear. Shocker: that didn’t happen. But working on themes in my stories wasn’t important, right?