World-Building is a topic that all writers will always be a student too, and I’m no different. But here are some factors to get you started before you enter the World-Building with PMESII-PT process. In the military, everyone is doing PCCs or PCIs, Pre-Combat Checks or Pre-Combat Inspections respectively, whenever needed. So the following topics are the Pre-checks you can do before delving into World-building.
Are you an Outliner or Explorer?
The forever debate of writers. Should I outline or fly by the seat of my pants? Knowing your approach to world-building will change what elements you focus on in the next steps.
Outliners will more likely create lists of creatures, cities, or other titles before they begin their story. The structured approach to writing is a great approach to world-building. Outliners can use similar structures in outlining their world as outlining their story. I’m not a huge outliner, so you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I imagine a formatted Word/Scrivener document with titles, headers, and subheadings. As pictured below. An organized layout, whether list or table, is a great way to reference certain things quickly. You need to remember if your creature would actually eat that food, the Animal heading should hold that information and room for it to grow.
Explorers, what I’m using to refer to pantsers, are writers who start at Point A and work toward Point B and discover the world as they go. I was heavy on this, and still am a little, when I started my first novel attempt. I just had these characters in a fantasy world with certain powers and asked myself where I wanted to take them. So what are you starting with? Do you have characters? A unique situation? Or do you have an amazing world you want to explore? Whatever it is, the best bet is to make notes as you discover the details of your world. Whether those notes are organized like the Outliners, or a pure chaos that only you understand, depends on you.
But Ken, isn’t this pulling in stuff you haven’t addressed in the list yet? Well, yes. But I feel like with the PMESII-PT posts, there’s always overlapping layers for each individual section. Knowing the type of writer you are will make the following steps easier.
Are you an Outliner or Explorer? When did you know for sure? Or are you still figuring it out?
Defining your genre does more than identifying your target audience. It also sets your tone, language, and approach to the premise. A great example of this is a love story that’s been used as a template many times, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Examples like West Side Story, Warm Bodies, and others. The tone expected by the reader should match the guaranteed tragedy that comes with star-crossed lovers. The language often shows a contrast between the main characters or the opposing forces that make them star-crossed lovers.
Another thing to consider is genre tropes. If you haven’t read widely in a genre, then you may or may not fall into genre tropes. But it’s more often seen in writers who have read much of their favorite genre. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s always good to read within the genre you write, but be careful you don’t fall back on genre tropes when you’re feeling a story isn’t working. Do your research into genre tropes. Knowledge of the tropes will make you a better writer.
What Genre will your story best fit? What are the tropes you know about or researched? Do you plan to use tropes for a certain effect? Or do you plan to avoid tropes altogether?
Craft your characters
Maybe you’ve had a character in mind for years, or you’re sitting down to write about a world and realize you need the story to be about someone or something. Just as all of us lead our own novels in day-to-day life, so will the characters in your story. If you look at large cast books, such as The Song of Fire and Ice series by George R. R. Martin or The Way of Kings series by Brandon Sanderson, you’ll find many characters who could tell the story.
So who do you choose as the focus characters in your book?
Don’t choose the character that will make the most money, unless they satisfy the next part. Choose the character, or characters, that interest you the most. The whole quote of “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” (Robert Frost) also stands true of the character selection. If you want to write a love story but choose a character that only observes from afar, you’ll have less effect than someone more involved.
How to craft your character?
Character building is complex and can change as you go. There are ask twenty question templates (I have a 144-question template somewhere in my files), diagrams, and probably support groups to help you build your characters. Finding how you want to craft your characters will depend on you, your story, and who you want to share your story with.
Are you using a small cast or large? Are you using a template of questions, Myers-Briggs Personality Types, or other methods to create your characters? Who is the single-most important character in your story?
Build situation/conflict off of characters
Choosing the right characters to follow may depend on your situation/story conflict. A beggar child is less likely to worry about the petty high society arguments unless it somehow ties to them. Fantasies of wished for lives rarely consider the unseen conflicts of the lower class.
So, if you start with your characters and know their place in society/the world, you can build your conflict off of your characters. This approach can get you into that buzz word, or more a phrase, Character Driven Stories. A character driven story is often driven by emotion instead of a high concept plot. This turns the conflict or situation inward, though it may still influence the outward world.
If you want to begin with the situation/conflict and then build your characters from that, it’s also a great option. Knowing what the conflict is will tell you what type of character would be the most interesting to follow through with the story.
Whether your writing plot-driven or character-driven stories, the situation/conflict will determine the trajectory of your characters, story, and world.
What is the main situation/conflict in your story? How does it affect your characters or the world? Are you using a simple or complex conflict?
Combine all of your answers from the previous sections and apply them to your world-building. By using your known factors, generated by your World-Building Pre-Checks, you’ll be able to enter the PMESII-PT World-Building realm with confidence and preparation. So if you’re just joining us on this World-Building venture, or need a refresh, check here for the first PMESII-PT post.
What if you’re like me and build worlds first? We’ll cover that in next week’s post. And as always, stay fresh, my nugs.
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6 thoughts on “World-Building Pre-Checks”
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I’m an outliner who wants to be an explorer XD Everytime I try to fly by the seat of my pants, I get caught on an accidental contradiction or the realisation that it’s not realistic enough.
And my main issue when it comes to character building is that I want a full and living cast of ‘NPCs’ but they all end up getting more attention than my main characters. I guess it’s a good way to generate more potential plots but I get the feeling it’ll just confuse my readers eventually!
This is a fab post to keep in my back pocket when building more of my world. Not only is it clear with what I’m supposed to be focussing on but it’s engaging. I couldn’t help but reply to the questions posed in this XD Even if it does make me look like a rambling weirdo.
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That does make it hard, and I can see how that hampers your attempts at being an explorer. I’m an explorer who tries to be an outliner. So I always find myself lost in the story after trying to follow an outline. In regards to your full and living cast of NPCs that’s not a bad thing. I see the extra characters in a first draft to be a way to get to the root of what you’re trying to write in your story with your main characters. In the next draft, use the extras that benefit your story the most. Combine, obliterate, or kill off the others that don’t ring true on their own. Thank you so much for your awesome reply! You made my day. Never a rambling wierdo, just another writer appreciating the craft. Thank you for your comment and have a great day, my nug!
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Thank you so much for the advice! I’ll take it with me as I write =D
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