3 min read

Continuity vs. worldbuilder's disease

At the moment, when I write a story, I don't have long notes. I have maybe a handful of sentences. I don't have supporting documents or an extensive plan. I previously noted a feeling that the stories I write lack a sense of continuity or grounding. If it's so, this could be one reason why.

I used to take more extensive notes. I would write a page or two of notes for a shorter story or probably ten to twenty pages of notes in advance of a longer one. I really enjoyed filling out these notes with the latest great idea I'd had about the world or characters.

The problem was that these stories—the longer ones, anyway—never made it to the "story" stage. I had a bunch of character notes and world notes. In some cases I had plot notes. They all seemed like great ideas at the time. But I didn't have the bits that would tie all these notes and ideas together, so I never ended up writing an actual story.

So I stopped doing that and started just writing the story. I switched to treating notes as a pointless distraction. This has succeeded in getting me to write more actual story text. It also probably results in this sense of the stories lacking continuity or grounding.

I'm tempted, then, to keep writing without notes. It produces something tangible, which is nice. Unfortunately, the tangible thing it produces is only the thing I want about half the time. The other half of the time, it's about half of the thing I want, with no clear way to fill in the gaps.

So, maybe it's worth writing some notes. But I don't want to get caught in writing twenty pages of Good Ideas that don't get me closer to an actual story. I feel like I need some kind of grounding to keep from getting too far off that track. I could spend afternoons imagining cool mushrooms and strange societies, but at some point there has to be a series of meaningful events that can be written down as a story. Fluff is fine in balance, probably even useful—but there needs to be some progress toward a series of meaningful events.

Progress could, of course, look like a description of some meaningful event(s). Except, what do I mean by meaningful? A list of things that happen might be useful for sanity-checking the timeline, but it's not meaningful. There are probably other things that are more basic or useful than a list of things that happen.

Maybe the useful thing is to find a central theme and go from there. List different perspectives on that theme, build characters, get them into conflict, and create arcs.

I've heard this idea before (I think that's the episode...). I didn't like it. It sounded a bit too paint-by-numbers. "Now that I have my creative premise, I am going to take it and solve it like a mathematical equation to figure out What Must Happen in order for it to fit Story Structure X." It sounded like: "Don't write a very specific story, and don't write your story. Instead, you should write someone else's story wearing a thin human skin suit you have supplied."

So I played around with these ideas a little, but did not buy into them. I tried to take what I already had and fit it into, say, a Story Circle. Sometimes I might fill in the missing events in the outline. But I wouldn't take those ideas seriously, from what I recall. I wouldn't then go and write a story based on the circle I had filled in. The logically filled blanks were treated as not good enough, second-class citizens to the organic, home-grown random brain noise I call inspiration. I worried that writing from the structure would give the story a smooth, machined feel.

(Also, practically speaking, I would try to fill in the structure from a single character's perspective in isolation and that didn't work well at all. I suspect that developing a plan using multiple characters works a lot better.)

But maybe the stories need a little machining. They come out rough by default. Maybe some machining could smooth down those rough edges. Worth a try?

This doesn't directly address the question of worldbuilding or character notes, but maybe it's a start. If you have a theme, then you can say: Does this note relate back to the theme? If so, it's story progress, and if not, it's a different kind of progress. Maybe that's enough.

There's a tension here between "Notes are useless, just write" and "Notes are everything, plan everything." Feels like an ayyy lmao meme. Maybe the idea of theme helps get back to "ayyy lmao."