They’ve pretty much always done it, either collectively — like the storytellers who built Greek mythology and or theologians who created the medieval vision of Hell — or individually, like the quirky medieval mapmakers and of course Tolkien, and every modern GM who spends more time creating their world than playing in it, and every wannabe Fantasy author who loses themselves in the act of creation.
For a fictional world to live, however, somebody has to tramp its surface.
We need a Homer to dump Odysseus on the Island of the Cyclops, Dante to have Virgil lead him through the Circles of Hell, and “John Mandeville” — whoever he really was — to take us to the Land of Prester John. Meanwhile, Tolkien must stop building and start writing, the GM has to assemble their players, and the modern wannabe Fantasy author has to…
Ah. That’s the thing.
Once upon a time, you could just take your hero from A to B to C, picking up plot tokens or even just getting closer to the goal while having quirky adventures on the way. We now expect a little more from our authors.
How do you get from the cool world you just built — or researched — to an actual story?
(I was going to blog about stuff related to Swords Versus Tanks (so about swords and tanks, mostly) but I’m busy editing Episode 3 (“Pyramid of Blood”) and NaNoWriMo is here…)
The writing process is always a cycle of trial and error, call it “create and tinker.” Humans are better at problem solving than inventing in a vacuum. No surprise, then, that the real story building usually happens in the tinker phase. Unfortunately, most new thoughts apply to characters and plot, e.g. we look at the scene we just wrote and realize it would be better with ninjas, and if the main character lacked her right foot. Sure we can write the rest of the book as if that were now true, but as the changes accrue, most of our first draft becomes condemned, which seems… inefficient. This is why I like outlining.