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Where does your World begin?

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With the cataclysmic (and, unfortunately, unsurprising) end of the CGSS thread I took the time to go back over many of the earlier posts in the thread, just to discern what I could take, as a learning experience, from the project. What I found is that writers with many similar ideas can easily become bogged down because of different approaches to story creation - even when, for the most part, they agree on specifics of the story itself. There seems, to me, to have been three methods being used/discussed: top-down, bottom-up, and what I saw as a middle-first approach. I'll stick with the skyscraper analogy that was used in the thread, since it more than anything highlighted this difference in mindset. Those who followed a bottom-up approach see story creation with the characters as the foundation, a starting point, and only until you've defined the characters can you begin to further flesh out the world they live in. It's very much a first-person perspective in design, if not in function. The top-down approach looks at story creation starting with the world itself; you can have a concept of the characters you're creating, but you can't begin to define them until you've defined the social and political aspects of the characters' surroundings. The world is the foundation, the characters the skycraper. But what I saw - and came to realize is an approach I use myself - is a middle ground. A core concept is formed first, a vision of BOTH the characters and the world they live in, and then a fleshing out of both before you can then move on to the specifics of the story plot. The concept is the foundation which must be built first, and both the characters AND the world become the skyscraper built later. I tend to start with a concept as a core, the idea for a few characters, and a basic premise of the world around them. I can't develop either the characters or the world until I've fully defined this core concept. Once I'm comfortable with that I move on to BOTH characters and history/world, because in my mind they play off each other. The world defines the way the characters develop, and the personalities of the characters help shape the world. It's a slow progress, certainly, but - in my opinion - a more harmonious one; I'm not forcing the characters to fit the world, or vice versa. However I need to fully understand both before I can begin to write the actual tale. In the end I guess I can say that, in my skyscraper, the characters are the concrete and glass and the world/history is the steel and wiring. I need the concrete AND the steel to create a framework, and the glass and wiring are what I need to complete the entire structure. The foundation is my core concept. So I'm curious, as individual writers: which is your approach? How do you build a story? Are you character driven, or world driven? Or is there a completely different methodology you use? Edit: Please pardon me for writing on the end of your post, but I would like to correct this slightly - The Collaborative Game Project is not entirely dead - I ave applied for a private forum here where the thread could be moved and development continued. If this request is not granted the project will simply move to a yahoo group so either way we're not quite dead yet, just reorganizing. :) [Edited by - sunandshadow on December 15, 2004 1:56:00 PM]

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There are pros and cons to doing it either way. When I write, I tend to build the world first, then the characters and then move forward. I dont like the idea of creating a world depending on the characters Ive defined. Earth does not cater to my personality, my personality caters to Earth, thus thats they way I define my stories. I find that usually when working the other way (build character, then world) the final product is a world which caters to the characters.

Some of the best minor details that Ive ever created for my stories have come from the slightest of details about the world as a whole. A very fast real world example would be that Giraff's have long necks because they are herbivores, and find a larger abundance of food available the higher they look. Thus, over time, evolve long necks in order to keep their existance logical. The way I would not write this, is to say that my world has to have different heights of available herbs for animals to reach, because my Giraff has a large neck.. (at least, it makes sense in my mind!)

I just hate looking back at my stories and finding that my world is just too convenient for my characters, and that it was un-natural. So Ive made it a conscience decision to always design my world first, and with that, defines the character that abide there.

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Quote:
Original post by EricTrickster
The top-down approach looks at story creation starting with the world itself; you can have a concept of the characters you're creating, but you can't begin to define them until you've defined the social and political aspects of the characters' surroundings. The world is the foundation, the characters the skycraper.


There's quite a bit of difference between worldbuilding, whch you are descrbing here, and theme/central concept/premise, which is the kind of top-down design we were discussing.

Worldbuilding and characters are only two of 5 places bottom-up design can begin according to this model (quoted from my developer journal):
Quote:

There is a theory of writing called the Circle of Story Elements. It states that there is a circle of 5 story elements that a writer must work through before you have created a complete story. You may start at any point on the circle, but you have to get to all of them before you're done. The circle goes like this:

characters - character dynamic - plot - atmosphere - wordbuilding - then back to characters again.

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I like the designing circle, it gives you some idea of where to go once you've come up with ideas about one aspect. I should try and use that method instead of the less organized way I go about it now.

Personally, I design from the perspective which the player is introduced to the game, and what I want the focus to be. The point you most want to portray to the player should be where the whole game builds from, so it must be first.

So for example, I start out by saying something like "The planet ____ is in a state of war. For eons...." blah blah blah, something to that effect. In this case it's obvious that I want the player to be first introduced to the planet and the peril it is in, so I put the primary focus of design on worldbuilding, and the politics and conflicts that are its foundation. Secondly comes the major players in the issue, which leads to characters and their development. Interpersonal elements are sketched out where they need be, but I usually go to plot before I get too into building up relationships between characters. I find that bringing two characters together in any way is dependent upon the situation they're immersed in and so plot comes between character creation, and character interaction.

Alternatively, if I introduce the game by "Here is mild mannered _____, who starts off his day like any other. When suddenly..." then my characters are paramount. They then find themselves in the center of something disastrous, and have to play off of each other to work through it. From there I create the events that lead to and result from the conflict, then work out how the world fits around all of it.

So the gist of it is, I don't start in any one place to develop an idea, it's all dependent on what I want to come out of the game.

As ever,
***Cosmic***

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I usually start with a concept as well, then move on to fleshing out the world, then the characters, then the plot. I find this helps me form a more cohesive story.

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Quote:
Original post by EricTrickster
The top-down approach looks at story creation starting with the world itself; you can have a concept of the characters you're creating, but you can't begin to define them until you've defined the social and political aspects of the characters' surroundings. The world is the foundation, the characters the skycraper.
I want to point out that what you described here as the top-down approach is not the top-down approach I was referring to in the thread. The top-down approach I mentioned does not begin with the creation of world building, but a central idea. What you have described here is more similar to 5minute's approach. And the central idea that I was referring to is more similar to the core concept that you mentioned below:

Quote:
But what I saw - and came to realize is an approach I use myself - is a middle ground. A core concept is formed first, a vision of BOTH the characters and the world they live in, and then a fleshing out of both before you can then move on to the specifics of the story plot. The concept is the foundation which must be built first, and both the characters AND the world become the skyscraper built later.


However, a subtle difference in my view of core concept is that it does not equate to a vision of the characters nor the story world. It is a higher level abstract goal that will in turn determines the characters and the story world.

Using the same skyscraper as the analogy, if the skyscraper is our story and other skyscrapers are other existing stories, then the central idea refers neither the wireframe nor the glass and wiring. It is the function of the skyscraper with respect to the real world (not the story world), with respect to other buildings in the real world that already exist, and with respect to the needs of the inhabitants in the city (the targeted readers in the real world).

Regarding the circle of story elements, the top level of this top-down approach is beyond that scope.

Personally, the subconscious is powerful enough, that simply expressing the thoughts and discovering the underlying meanings are sufficient to gather enough material to complete a story. It is only in the context of a group writing that a more elaborated and systematic approach is required.

In other words, my personal approach is the free-writing approach, in which you just write whatever you want and discover what you mean. It doesn't matter whether you start with an emotion, a character, a detail of the world. They will all be coherent in the end after you understand them and refine them.

[Edited by - Estok on December 15, 2004 9:01:47 PM]

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