World Building, Character Creation, and Knowing When to Start Writing Part II

OriginSome 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.

ItsOnlyAFirstDraftTired 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.

Crane'sWar - JulianFaylonaMy 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!

Happy Writing!

World Building, Character Creation, and Knowing When to Start Writing Part I.

OriginI have started drafting (actually that’s too precise a word…more like mapping) my sci-fi pilot, and as much as I love research mode (that’s not sarcasm, I really do!) at what point do you know enough to start writing?

As a screenwriter, there is often much that is left in the hands of others.  Our screenplays are blueprints from which all other departments create our vision – this new world.  Obviously in the case of historical time periods there is plenty of opportunity to do research and find the “right” look or aesthetic, but in the case of science fiction and fantasy, where much of the idea is in the writer’s head, how much information are you supposed to give in order to allow the reader to see the story as you do?

I’ve been doing research on show bibles and how to create one (Bang2Write has a great article), and much of that information can be included in that, but as a screenwriter, you need the script to engage your reader with all those details, but be easy to understand so that they can visualize the story, and yet not get burdened down by too much description.  And therein lies the fine line.

Tentatively titled, The Demeter, my story is about two sisters who are picked up by the cliché version of aliens (you know the ones), experimented on, and then readied for sale within the galactic slave trade.  The younger is sold and the elder escapes to try to get her back, but upon nearly getting recaptured, the elder sister finds herself aboard a ship with a crew of interesting characters that will teach her a variety of things and help her try to get her sister back.  Of course there will be romance, because that was one of the first scenes I had in my mind when I decided to write this story.

Not a convoluted tale, a sort of fish out of water-search & rescue kind of thing, but here is where it starts to get tricky.  In my head I have all these great scenes and moments, and I thought writing a pilot wouldn’t be too difficult, until I sat down to start plotting the story.  I thought it would be, not to sound ignorant, but easier because it’s just a snippet of the overall story.  A teaser.  I’ve written five full-length features, so writing a beginning to a greater story arc seemed like a simpler endeavor.  Not quite.

First off, there are a ton of questions I can’t answer yet, such as why these girls?  Why are these different characters on this ship?  Secondly, I have no idea what I want the aliens to look like, Pinterest has been my friend – see here – or even what they should be called.  Like this little guy.  How cute is he?!  Whoever created him…well done!Adorable Alien*

There are a number of space themed films, TV shows, and video games, and anything I come up with that even remotely sounds like something I’ve heard elsewhere goes right into the bin.  There’s that phrase of, “there are no original stories”, so I’m trying to stay clear of any similarities, even if it’s something I like the sound of.

There have been a number of influences for this particular idea, some may even seem odd.  I don’t want all my aliens to be a variant on human physiology – two arms, two legs, etc.  Obviously there’s Star Wars, but shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed us a number of characters that didn’t all walk on two legs.  Men in Black and Galaxy Quest were great for that too.  I liked a lot of the ideas within the show Farscape, and they made great use of puppets from the Jim Henson Company.  I liked that.  There’s the video game Mass Effect 2 which is so much fun and has some great stories.  And then there is Doctor Who.  No explanation necessary.

There are many things to consider, and this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  I will continue more specifically with some of the information I’ve found in another post soon.  These are just a few things to consider, if you’re like me, in the beginning stages of writing a pilot as TV has reached a new golden age and you’d like to be a part of it.

I’m off to discover all the whos, whats, and whys.

Best of luck to you in your writing endeavors!

*If you have info on sites to visit, boards on Pinterest, etc. where I can find ideas for races, worlds, ships, and what have you, please share!