A way with worlds: 01 - Your Main Character
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 1
Who is your most important
character in your original work? Perhaps a wise hero, a clever
heroine, or noble crusader.
Actually, those are the
*main* characters in a story. However, the major character, the
most influential, is your world, your setting. Except in some
cases, your world is there before and after your characters, and
is the source they come from. A good setting is just as alive as
In writing original fiction,
knowing, understanding, and creating your world is paramount. It
is important to know your setting in any fanfic, but in creating
one yourself, you have new opportunities and challenges. This
continuing column will concern original world creation, with the
occasional veer into general issues of good setting and
I always advise some solid
world-building before beginning an original-setting story in
detail. Why do this? This may seem an obvious question with an
obvious answer, but I've found that's not always the case, even
Good reasons to worldbuild
in detail before you start writing:
1) It prevents error. Let's
face it - its easy to start running with an idea then forget you
need to know where it takes place. However, when you're in the
middle of a really good story and you suddenly realize you're not
sure where the Dark Overlord's power comes from, and your best
idea conflicts with chapter 2's moving occult sequence.
Quite simply, good
worldbuilding makes writing a great deal easier. You have an idea
of why and how things work, and its less likely you'll come up
with a continuity-breaking concept (and when you do, hopefully
its in the design phase so you can get it out of your system).
2) Provide ideas. A
well-designed world takes on a life of its own. In my
experiences, a world, just like and as a character, can start
writing itself. One idea leads to another, one question leads to
an answer that begs another question, and soon the world is
3) A bulwark against
contrivance and accidental plagiarism. When your world is
developed, uniquely yours and alive, it prevents those moments
where you want to contrive something or worry where an idea came
from. Even if some ideas in your world don't seem original, a
well-build worlt helps ensure a unique and believable handling of
4) Stops favoritism. When
your world's continuity is primary, its harder to play favorites
with a character and thus avoid leaps of logic and contriving.
When you know there's no way to stop a deadly plague in your
story except technology the heroes don't have, you have to think
of a good way for them to deal with - or write some believable
BUT WHAT ABOUT MAIN
It's hard to relate to a
world - you write about characters that are people. How do you
treat a world as your "prime" character yet have a
I call this having a
"lens." In all your world, you find a character or
characters, or create some, whose story you want to tell. You may
have a main character well in mind even before creating a world,
but if not, your world-building can help you find one.
Having a good world and a
good "lens" gives you the best of both worlds, so to
speak. A good character comes from a good world, and in turn lets
people experience their life in that world. Realistic settings
and realistic characters go hand-in hand, each improving the
other, and improving their story.
Plus, a well-designed world
seen through the eyes of a good character will leave your readers
wanting more, wondering what's around the next corner, waiting
for the next story.
OK, HOW DO I RECORD
ALL OF THIS?
Well, I keep files on
characters, settings, and notes to myself. There's no one way to
do it - you may only need to track a few characters set in a
world that's essentially ours, or design a giant ecosystem for a
four-dimensional gas giant.
Choose a format that works,
that is easy to use, and that you can refer to easy. It also
helps to imagine someone else may be reading it when you record
your information - because what seems to make sense to you one
day may not the next.
Also, back up! I back my
data files up once a week just to be safe. Print-outs help as
well, since magnetic media has its vulnerabilities.
Take a trip to my own
alternate world, the Crossworld of Xai, at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/xai/
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.