Yes, yes, I know. I love talking about world building. It’s one of my favorite parts of the whole process. And one of the reasons I love it is because it’s always ongoing. Rarely do writers come up with a complete history of the characters and the world they live in. And conversely, quite often writers are thrown for a loop when an unplanned but much needed figment of a character’s personality shines through.
Recently while doing some work on the Secret Next Project, one of my main characters suddenly decided to change from snarky and a bit wild, to moody, highly intelligent and deeply caring. Part of this was due to a later outtake where I had him working with another main character (specifically a moment where they had to trust each other completely) and instead of trying to shoehorn him into my original idea of him, I ran with the new idea instead. Their connection with each other suddenly became an extremely important plot point, especially as it mirrors their fathers’ history.
I love it when a major plot line pops out of nowhere like that. It’s that moment where the larger story as a whole suddenly starts falling into place. [Mind you, my reaction to this is usually not an emphatic “YES!” but more of a smile, a nod, and a thoughtful yes, that should do nicely. Then I’ll spend the rest of the evening secretly squeeing on the inside.]
One rule I’ve given myself for Secret Next Project is to not dismiss ideas out of hand. If I come up with an unexpected leftfield idea, I’ll think it through and see if it’ll fit within the context of the larger picture. So far it’s worked quite nicely, as the story has taken at least four unexpected turns and has evolved into something much deeper and more complex than I expected. More to the point, it surprised me that it happened so quickly; I’ve only worked on this for less than a month and already I’ve got almost a full storyline idea. That never happens that quickly for me.
This also means that it’s clearer and more complete quite early on in the game; another thing that almost never happens for me. The same thing happened for Meet the Lidwells, to be honest; I already had a pretty solid idea of the entire story by the time I actually started writing it. I’m not feeling my way in the dark nearly as often as I did with the trilogy. With the Secret Next Project, I’m yet to work out the complete plot, but I’ve got nearly all the important beats I have to hit already.
To be honest, world building really is a game of balances. Elaborating versus using what you already have; choosing which fate works best for the character; creating enough to make it realistic but not getting bogged down with details.
There’s more to come, of course, but learning how to balance it all is the best part. That’s what makes the story, and the storytelling process, interesting.