A Random List of Things That Have Helped Me In Building Fictional Stories
So I was suddenly inspired to type these up tonight, idk why. I know I’ve mentioned them to friends in conversations, or kind of vaguely talked about them in other posts, but I decided to collect them all into one thing. Basically some practices that do my worldbuilding by which have helped me a lot.
1. WRITE THAT STUFF DOWN
I can’t begin to describe how many times I’ve had a brilliant idea and I’ve been like “eh I’ll remember it later” and then it’s been lost to me forever because I didn’t write it down. Seriously, it’s never too early to start taking notes, and it’s never too early to start creating a system to organize your notes. You’ll thank yourself a year from now when you want to remember that one vague idea you had for a character or a scene but you can’t quite remember it exactly. I personally love Evernote because I can jot notes on my phone, and then it syncs with my computer so I can pull them up later to expand on it more.
2. Always be willing to radically change things.
So your story or world has been “this way” for many years, that’s just how it is yeah? But suddenly one day… you get hit with this notion of… what if you radically changed this one element and turned it into this kind of story instead? The improvement would be massive! and yet… and yet… you’re so familiar with the current story, it’s been your best friend for so long, it’s almost painful to ditch huge portions and rewrite them!
Trust me I know, I’ve done some massive overhauls to certain stories and it’s hard, it’s sooo hard. However, in the long run I’ve been glad EVERY SINGLE TIME that I did make those changes. Any chance to improve a story should be jumped on immediately.
3. But ALWAYS keep those old ideas logged away in your notes.
I say this because of two things. 1: you might actually change your mind and want to switch back to an older idea that fits better, so having all that info there makes it a nice and easy switch. Also 2: It’s fun to have a documentation of how your story has grown and changed! You can look back and be like “wow that sucked, glad I changed it” or be like “awww, it was so rough back then, I’m glad I was able to flesh things out and fill in the details.”
I’m a bit of a hoarder by nature, because everything has to run through the “but I might need this later” urge in my brain. It’s not practical for all the cardboard boxes that tend to build up in my house, but it’s been absolutely invaluable in regards to my art and stories.
4. Scrutinize the hell out of your story.
So I fell into the same trap myself that I think literally every new writer falls into… and that is using way too many cliches. Or just essentially copying stories they’ve already seen. Honestly I don’t think they realize they’re doing it. I know I sure didn’t. I think it’s just somehow part of being 15-16 years old? Because SO MANY 15-16 yr old artists I’ve seen are just ripping off other ideas. So don’t worry if you’re in that stage right now, this is your chance to get a heads up on your competition. This is where you get to do lots of research and realize what common story trends you might have accidentally fallen into.
It helps a lot to take a hard look at your story elements and just do the “does this HAVE to be this way?” test. Does my main character HAVE to be another white male seeking revenge? Does there HAVE to be a sexy female love interest? Does it HAVE to have the usual bad guy that wants to take over the world?
Mostly I’ve done this with checking out the minority representation in my stories, and female representation. I’m super white myself, I’m as white as they come, and lemme tell you there was almost 0 representation in my earlier stories because it just didn’t dawn on me to include non-white characters. I was definitely young and oblivious once, but I’ve done a lot of learning and exploring of other cultures. Now every time a new character pops into my head and they’re the default caucasian, I instantly go “ok but what if they had Middle Eastern descent, or were from somewhere in Asia?” Additionally I’ve switched so many male characters to females because I was getting quite a sausage fest. Not sure how that happened, I guess the default of “male character” has been so embedded in my head because of popular culture that even I, a woman, had to fight against it.
5. Let your story take time.
Ok so after scrutinizing your story you’re probably going to notice a LOT of problems. And it’s going to be infuriating and beyond frustrating if you don’t have any immediate ideas for them. Y'know what the best thing I’ve done for this dilemma? WAIT.
Some authors will spend YEAARRSSSS working on a story. Christopher Nolan spent 9 years working on his script to Inception. It actually got studio approval very quickly when he only had the rough idea, but then other projects demanded his attention and he couldn’t get around to directing it. But he’s said in interviews that the extra time he then spent tweaking the script and letting it grow and change were absolutely invaluable.
So don’t get distressed if you don’t have a million brilliant ideas right away. I’ve had some stories that I’ve been working on for 10 years or more, and it took 7 years for one of them to finally make sense.
Of course there’s a balance to be found, you could end up waiting your entire life for the “perfect story” which can never be found, so you have to learn when it’s good enough and to start working to finish it.
6. On a similar note: That initial idea rush is the BEST THING EVER… but never go with your first idea (although always keep them around just in case).
All my stories, the first versions, were absolutely rip-offs or heavily inspired by something I had recently read/watched/etc. However, over time, as I let them grow, I started to notice the problem areas and worked to change them, and the end result now is something where the original influences can barely even be seen anymore (although they’re still there and I won’t deny it).
So this kind of encapsulates all my other points, don’t be afraid to make huge changes, but keep your old stuff around in case you like the original better, but also let it take time so your brain can work to fix the bad stuff.
Being aware of how other stories and art and etc sticks in your brain and influences your thinking can be very helpful. I’ve had to fight to not change some of my stories based on each TV show I’m currently obsessing with. I’m basically just a giant sponge so I’m like WOW I LOVE THIS I WANT TO MAKE SOMETHING LIKE THIS. So instead I have to think hard about “ok, what is it specifically I love about this? Is it how they set up scenes? Is it the dialogue? The character interactions? The cinematography? The pacing? The directing?” If you break something down to it’s base elements then you can say “I really like how they pace out the reveals of information so the audience is always hooked and interested in more, I’ll have to take notes and see if I can improve that in my own story.”
Now I’m realizing I could make “analyze other media in your chosen medium/genre” yet another point, but I think there’s tons of other articles that have covered the importance of knowing your field. This was just me blabbering about general concepting ideas that have helped me a lot over the years. I can only hope that they’re helping to make my stories better as I’ve yet to finish any stories technically haha, but maybe someone else out there can get some ideas to help them out.
Happy Worldbuilding Friends!