Your Main Character
By Steven Savage
Archives available at The Way With Worlds Home Page
Who is your most important character in your original work? Perhaps a wise hero, a clever heroine, or noble crusader.
Actually, those are the *main* characters in a story. However, the major character, the most influential, is your world, your setting. Except in some cases, your world is there before and after your characters, and is the source they come from. A good setting is just as alive as your cast.
In writing original fiction, knowing, understanding, and creating your world is paramount. It is important to know your setting in any fanfic, but in creating one yourself, you have new opportunities and challenges. This continuing column will concern original world creation, with the occasional veer into general issues of good setting and continuity.
I always advise some solid world-building before beginning an original-setting story in detail. Why do this? This may seem an obvious question with an obvious answer, but I've found that's not always the case, even for myself.
Good reasons to worldbuild in detail before you start writing:
1) It prevents error. Let's face it - its easy to start running with an idea then forget you need to know where it takes place. However, when you're in the middle of a really good story and you suddenly realize you're not sure where the Dark Overlord's power comes from, and your best idea conflicts with chapter 2's moving occult sequence.
Quite simply, good worldbuilding makes writing a great deal easier. You have an idea of why and how things work, and its less likely you'll come up with a continuity-breaking concept (and when you do, hopefully its in the design phase so you can get it out of your system).
2) Provide ideas. A well-designed world takes on a life of its own. In my experiences, a world, just like and as a character, can start writing itself. One idea leads to another, one question leads to an answer that begs another question, and soon the world is running itself.
3) A bulwark against contrivance and accidental plagiarism. When your world is developed, uniquely yours and alive, it prevents those moments where you want to contrive something or worry where an idea came from. Even if some ideas in your world don't seem original, a well-build worlt helps ensure a unique and believable handling of such ideas.
4) Stops favoritism. When your world's continuity is primary, its harder to play favorites with a character and thus avoid leaps of logic and contriving. When you know there's no way to stop a deadly plague in your story except technology the heroes don't have, you have to think of a good way for them to deal with - or write some believable death scenes.
BUT WHAT ABOUT MAIN CHARACTERS?
It's hard to relate to a world - you write about characters that are people. How do you treat a world as your "prime" character yet have a *main* character?
I call this having a "lens." In all your world, you find a character or characters, or create some, whose story you want to tell. You may have a main character well in mind even before creating a world, but if not, your world-building can help you find one.
Having a good world and a good "lens" gives you the best of both worlds, so to speak. A good character comes from a good world, and in turn lets people experience their life in that world. Realistic settings and realistic characters go hand-in hand, each improving the other, and improving their story.
Plus, a well-designed world seen through the eyes of a good character will leave your readers wanting more, wondering what's around the next corner, waiting for the next story.
OK, HOW DO I RECORD ALL OF THIS?
Well, I keep files on characters, settings, and notes to myself. There's no one way to do it - you may only need to track a few characters set in a world that's essentially ours, or design a giant ecosystem for a four-dimensional gas giant.
Choose a format that works, that is easy to use, and that you can refer to easy. It also helps to imagine someone else may be reading it when you record your information - because what seems to make sense to you one day may not the next.
Also, back up! I back my data files up once a week just to be safe. Print-outs help as well, since magnetic media has its vulnerabilities.
NEXT WEEK: It *is* the little things that count.