I have always wanted to write a story so I finally started to take action rather than just dream about it. I have started writing down characters, their personalities, their roles in the story, a naming system, the setting of their world, the geography of the world. It has been enjoyable and is going well, but I wanted to ask more experienced writers if I may be doing to much.

Should I just write a short story first or continue doing what I'm doing? Thank you for your help. Cheers.


Different writers work in different ways (you are going to hear the terms "plotter" and "pantsers" from multiple people -- plotters being those who plan first and pansters being those who just sit down and write).

However, you should be aware that there is an entirely separate activity/hobby/avocation called world building. The desire to build worlds and the desire to tell stories are two entirely different things. Some people, most notably Tolkien, spend years of happy world building and then decide to write stories. But that does not mean that world building is a necessary precursor to storytelling. It is a legitimate and enjoyable hobby in its own right. (In university I belonged to a club called the League of Semi-Real Nations. I wrote stories in mine, but other members did not.)

Stories, in the end, are moral. That is to say, they are about people making choices about values. You can build worlds to the end of time and never hit on a story about moral choices that interests you or is worth telling. And if you do have a story about moral choices that interests you and is worth telling, you only need do enough world building to create the stage on which that moral choice must be faced. And that may be no worldbuilding at all.

Of course, the moral choice that is the center of a story may come out of worldbuilding. You might start out with a worldbuilding idea such as, what if money grew on trees. Then you would ask, what would be the moral implications of a world in which money grows on trees? What moral problems would that create, what hard choices would that present to a character? And then you write a story about that character facing that choice.

But the point is that the process of storytelling begins when you have thought of a character who faces a choice of values. You then need to contrive a setting and a plot to bring them to the moment of decision. How much or how little world building you need to do that may then be much clearer to you.

  • 1
    Also see: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com
    – Taterhead
    Aug 4 '17 at 6:42
  • "Some people, most notably Tolkien, spend years of happy world building and then decide to write stories.". Thats a bit of a stretch. Tolkien was linguist. He wanted to create new languages. but he noticed that a language without stories and hirtory doesn't work. So he created a world for his languages, and told stories within his world.
    – Polygnome
    Aug 4 '17 at 7:26
  • "Money grows on trees" already occurs somewhere in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, of course :) Aug 4 '17 at 8:41

Anything you do is good practice. Character development, plotting, world building, all those are important if you feel the need to flesh out a world before you start writing. Some like to start with an empty canvas, but you're not one of those. Neither am I.

When the time comes, you'll want to share these images in your head, and you'll start to put words on paper. If that time never comes, put away your ideas and try something new. There is no schedule, no right way or wrong way, for writing. Do what you want.

If you're lucky, one day a character or an idea will come to you, and you will start to write in earnest. You'll have no choice. Until then, get as much practice as you can, so you'll be ready.


Your first several stories will suck. Fine, whatever. If you only have one story to tell, you can give it a try, fail and start over until it no longer sucks or you can practice on stories you don't care about. Either way writing takes practice.


This stuff is called "The Bible" and is mostly exclusive to the right... it's essentially a way the writer can keep track of ideas, rules for the universe, characters, possible themes, how all this relates. I come from a school of thought that the first duty of every writer is to surprise his or her readers... which requires a lot of planning because you want to set your readers to expect one thing... but not make it look like you want them to suspect it (a Red Herring). So my stuff is heavily plotted out. There's nothing wrong with this... some of my favorite writing works are well plotted out. Harry Potter was, I believe, a decade of plotting before any real writing was done. With my own stuff, I know I have elements that I can recall originated from as far back as 14 years prior to now, and I'm closish to starting the book...

Conversely, some writers just wing it... which also works... I actually use this in my actual writing phase, especially with dialog and action sequences, because I tend to stage them in my mind... my only hint is that I know the expected outcome, but also because of the lead time, the dialog may contain something that... at time of writing... fixes elements of plotting I was having trouble with (I'd be a couple stories ahead of the first one). Other cases things might be tried because a situation might have occured from reality that needs to be worked out. Scully's abduction in the second season of X-Files had a huge influence on the following 8 seasons of the show... all to get the story to a point where the character didn't have to appear for two episodes so the actress could take maternity leave. The whole arch was one of the franchise's signature moments and contained some of the best character dialog of the series (the show is also famous for not really having a plan for it's story which long time fans realized was the case as the seasons ticked away).

Again, there are hybrids... I highly recomend poking around writer Greg Weisman's webpage. Getting his start in the cartoon series "Gargoyles" as the first TV show he produced, he wrote a huge bible for how Gargoyles worked and explored every possible way the Gargoyles world operated (he's a hard man to stump on his own works. He only refuses to talk about potential resolutions to dangling plot threads cause he hopes to tell those stories to this day, and colors of characters not yet seen in visual media because he's color blind and doesn't rely on color when designing the characters). So naturally you would think the entire series played out all according to his design (especially since he is fond of villains who's evil schemes are designed to be net wins for the villain no matter the outcome) you'd be sorely mistaken. A bulk of season two was designed with the behind the scenes intent to bring back a one off season one villain that had died at the episodes end... simply because the voice actor gave a really impressive performance. And misreading a line from scripted "the humans" to "the human" from another voice actress lead to connecting two seemingly unrelated characters together AND explain away a fact that another one off was a blatant recycle of a character model with a changed coloring. Sure, the important stuff was plotted out, but not to an insane degree that the story couldn't be tweaked during the writing process.

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