Some time back in July, I wrote the first part of this topic. You can read it here. I can’t believe it took me until January to write the first draft of the pilot, which was what inspired that post – world building, etc. (I was such a lump last year.) I know I was excited by the idea, and the research phase did take some time, but it is clear that I lost my way and floundered for a while before I made the effort. I remember just being clueless as to some decisions I needed to make. There were so many things that didn’t seem right, and that derailed my enthusiasm.
My biggest hurdle, oddly enough, was in regards to my protagonist. I had backstories and loads of ideas in place for all the other characters, but something about her was off. I finally decided to do research on character development, in the hopes it would shine a light on her. Here is a link to a few of the things I discovered, which may help you too, if you’re ever struggling. Before I begin a story, after some research, I’m pretty sure of my characters, so this hurdle was new for me.
I mean, how could I not know who she is?! She is the reason I’m writing the story.
I finished the rewrite of the pilot a couple of weeks ago, and it got me thinking that I never did come back to this topic, and I wanted to share a few things I learned along the way. I had planned on continuing this topic some time closer to the original post, but now, who knows what I intended all those months ago..?!
Everyone develops a strategy for their writing over time. We learn what works for us and what doesn’t. I am not a fan of outlining, but I tried do create a rough outline so I knew what I wanted to hit within the pilot and where I wanted it to end. This is one of the first times it sort of worked for me. I have so many ideas for this story, and not writing a full length feature made it clear that while I needed to touch on some ideas, I only needed to allude to others. Writing just one episode means leaving a lot open for later, and that is something I was not used to doing. Also, by creating the rough outline, I had an idea of where I needed to interject the subplots, so that made it easier to see the holes.
Tired of dragging my heels, I finally made it a point to write the first draft, regardless of how much information I was still lacking, and this was a huge step forward for me. I’m one of those who painstakingly writes each word. I tend to rewrite while I’m writing, and this causes a lot of lag time. I wanted to pound out the first draft as quickly as possible (I think I wrote it in 3-4 days), then I would know what I was missing and how to proceed in my research and decision making. So here is a suggestion for something I have never done before.
Knowing there were still things that needed names, or language issues, because I’m writing about aliens, I used asterisks or parentheses around words I knew would need to be changed in the rewrite. I still didn’t know the name of the galactic order so I generically used the word Empire (thanks, Star Wars) and put an asterisk next to it. It allowed me to continue the flow knowing it wasn’t a decision that needed to be made right then and there. I did the same with alien terminology and location headers within the screenplay; anything really that I didn’t have an answer for right on the spot.
The other thing I learned was a way of introducing nearly a full cast in one scene. I’ve never done this before, and I had to think of an activity that would showcase their individual personalities in a short amount of time. During research mode, I wrote up note cards on each character which included where they were from, their race, occupation, positive and negative traits, and some background info. This helped me to see how they would each respond in a given situation. The first draft included a generic scene where all the characters were introduced and described, but I knew it didn’t work. I put a big asterisk next to the scene and moved on. Before the rewrite, I thought about the different kinds of group activities that could take place, but it was one thing in particular that made the difference.
I had been limited in my thinking. World building includes a number of topics to take into consideration – there’s government, military, religion, customs, and trade, all of which I had thought about, but I hadn’t thought about entertainment. What did my characters do for fun? How did they blow off steam? It didn’t take long after that to figure out their new introduction.
My last insight is this. Fantasy and sci-fi, in particular, allow for a number of freedoms in their stories, but it also offers writers the opportunity to highlight social and political issues under this guise. Just another topic to consider while you’re world building. Is there something going on in the world that you want to talk about? Setting your story against an alien/fantasy backdrop may offer you the freedom to share your insight. This is something I learned years ago, when I decided I didn’t want my first story to be just a fluff piece. I utilize my fantasy and sci-fi worlds to highlight the current state of humanity, the deterioration of the environment, and the pros and cons in the advancement of technology.
There is a lot to think about when creating a world from scratch, and I’ve just touched on a few. It’s a lot of fun because it truly is a blank slate, and this is one reason research is so important, but don’t let it become the sole focus for too long. Keep your momentum, and try a variety of tricks to help you get that story out as quickly as possible. You’ll have plenty of rewrites to work out the details.
I’ve been trying to keep an eye out on Pinterest for writing tips as well, so click here, for some more. If you’ve learned any tricks along the way, please share and let’s help each other make great stories!