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I've been working on a paranormal/romance/mystery kind of novel for over 4 years now and still haven't finished it. It all started out as a fanfiction but I decided that it had too much potential (at least in my opinion) to stay a simple fanfiction.

As I kept on working on my story I eventually started plotting. I know now every major detail/plot point of my story that has to happen in order for my characters to end up where they are supposed to end up.

My biggest problem isn't the plotting itself but rather the setting (and sometimes worldbuilding) of my story in the context of the plot which derives from me constantly suffering from creative overflow and therefore not knowing what suits my story best. Although my ideas wouldn't influence the plot itself that much it would definitely influence the tone and atmosphere of the story.

A big part of my story now is my character having supernatural powers she doesn't understand, visions of a spirit and not knowing what it is. Also she works in a newspaper office trying to make a name as she tries to investigate mysterious murders in her college town. And bit by bit she uncovers what she is, what those visions are and who is responsible for the murders.

...but between that there's so much to put into. It pains me so much.

Do any of you understand where I'm coming from? How do you deal with that overflow?

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You have to analyze your own writing.

You are weaving together three things.

  • The Plot, the basic events that force characters to take actions. eventX happens, charA respond with eventY, leading to charB to respond with eventZ, and so on. The chain of "cause and effect", including failures, successes, eventually playing out as defeat or victory or some mix of both.

  • The Setting, which impedes or accelerates action in the story. If its medieval, travel may be slow. If magical, perhaps fast for a few. If civilized law may impede actions, if uncivilized (including futuristic outer space) perhaps its the law of the jungle.

  • Character development. Characters have personalities, likes, dislikes, multiple goals, and things at stake. Who they want to protect, what they are willing to suffer pain to keep, things wrong with them, weaknesses, strengths, loves and lusts.

The danger of overwriting something is boring the reader, communicating details that don't really matter to the story, OR the atmosphere, OR the character development.

To analyze your work, you need to identify why you are writing something, exactly what in a general sense are you trying to communicate to the reader?

For example, is it the beauty of nature in your imagined world? Fine, that's worth communicating. But it isn't worth communicating endlessly, it gets boring. Does the beauty of nature matter to the characters, or is it taken for granted because they have spent their whole life in it?

It does no good, and it is bad writing, to constantly hammer the reader with the same basic information over, and over, and over. There are only so many ways you can say Jack was overwhelmed by this beautiful thing, then that beautiful thing, then this other beautiful thing, before we think something is wrong with Jack.

That's the first principle, don't be endlessly repetitive; it is like somebody obsessed with sex that tries to inject sexual meaning into everything. Fun for the author, perhaps, but irritating to readers that aren't obsessed with sex. Try to identify your particular obsession so you can restrain it.

Imagination is certainly fine, but details in a setting have an exponentially declining value to the reader. Too much detail bogs them down, it is too much of a memory strain. If your imagination overflows, that's fine, just don't put it all on the page: Make a list of what you are imagining, stop for a few minutes and don't look at it, then without looking, list the most important three things. Don't overload the reader, descriptive prose of a scene (or machine or whatever) gets exhausting quickly.

You say you are a fan of something: Analyze the descriptive prose in THAT work, and see how much a scene is described just in raw words. (There are roughly 250-300 words per page in most books). Try to emulate that average, no more. If the description of the setting is broken by dialogue, character feelings or thoughts or character action, emulate that too. No uninterrupted descriptive prose longer than what you are already a fan of reading.

Prose is an interruption of the flow of action. You can get away with more at the beginning of chapters, or scene changes, because there is little going on with the characters at those points.

But once the characters are involved, readers are interested in character actions and interactions, feelings and thoughts. Readers are there to become the characters, imagine themselves as the good guys on a harrowing adventure. Settings are there to help or hinder the action, to echo the feelings of the characters, or contrast them, or to force the feelings of the character.

It is fine to over-imagine things, that's a valuable asset for a writer. But not to put every one of the twenty things you imagine on the page: It lets you choose the best two or three things to put on the page. You need to be analytical about these things you have brainstormed, prioritize them, and pick the few most important or impactful or representative things, so you don't overload the readers memory, slow down the story too much, and focus on the characters and how the details affect them.

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One key thing that I learned in my classes is that when you outline a story plot of any kind, you don't want to write the whole thing out on a planning document. My advice is to write half the plot down and have faith in your characters and setting to carry the rest of the plot forward.

I know now every major detail/plot point of my story that has to happen in order for my characters to end up where they are supposed to end up.

This, to me, is a dangerous way of writing a story -- because it's backwards to how it should be. Characters need to push the plot forward, rather than the plot pushing the characters to a point they need to be at. This is tricky, I know, as some of the best stories give the illusion that the plot is tugging the characters forward, but good active+dynamic characters are the kinds of people that readers want to see in their stories: the ones who take their world by the wheel and drive with it. People like that in real life are interesting -- and are often the kinds of people you hear about in biographies, documentaries, and news articles.

I do think the basic plot points you have here are very interesting and could blossom into something great; I just need to stress that the focus should be on characters first, then plot. Setting, I believe, is also affected by characters -- because like I said: active people are the ones who help shape their world.

A lot of people get caught up in worldbuilding -- and that's understandable. To me, though, it's something you need to be loose with and then hammer out harder when you get into actual plotting and revisions. I am certain that if you do this, your story will be great!

  • Thank you. I'm struggling with my main character mostly. She is a witch. But I feel like there are tons of stories where the protagonist literally gets dragged into this unknown world and disliking it first until they get used to it. So I struggle between keeping my story the way it is and actually starting the story from a point if integration into that magical world. Kinda like as if HP started right in Hogwarts. But I'm not sure. Twilight, Vampire Diaries, it all seems the same to me. One girl gets dragged into a creepy world instead of her already living it. What do you think? – AlexSkellington Oct 20 at 21:45
  • @AlexSkellington there actually is a genre for what you're talking about in regard to "the protagonist gets dragged into this unknown world"; a lot of the times it's called "portal fantasy" or, if you're into manga, isekai. The formula became very popular around the 90s and 2000s because it's a good way to capture young audiences: people who are regularly thrown into sudden situations that they need adapt to. My advice to you is to make sure you know your audience and believe in your genre if you think it'll satisfy them. Listen to the naysayers, but don't let them get to you. – AlRey 2 days ago
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...but between that there's so much to put into. It pains me so much.

Do any of you understand where I'm coming from? How do you deal with that overflow?

I completely understand and my suggestion is, first of all, not to think of it as overflow. Don't think of it as a weakness, but a strength. There are stories whose worlds should have been fleshed out in greater detail, not for the reader to drown in those details, but for the nuances to allow a truly immersive read. You have the impulse to flesh out that world and its nuances, so it is a strength.

Secondly, just like you plotted down all that must happen for the characters to go through certain actions, you 'paint' the setting and the world. Do it outside the narrative, though - and I cannot stress that point enough. You can paint in a vague overview focusing mostly on the tone, or you can go more into the mechanics, or both. One simple method would be to build a wiki with all the important details of the world, or you could just have a list of bullets/topics organised in categories. You can even do it in the shape of short stories with completely different characters (with the added bonus that you don't feel like you're wasting time on worldbuilding as you are writing stories).

Once you have set the main points of how the world works and understand the setting, you can sit down to write your story. Do not in any way dwell on the setting (unless it is important for the plot advancement and the character development, obviously), but rather drop subtle references. Instead of a narrator explaining the local politics, let a main character participate in or listen to a discussion on the topic. Even just a complaint about the child-king's advisors heard in passing gives colour without a long explanation of the regency problems (or if that regency will ever come to a willing end).

The key is to organise your ideas for the world without getting lost in never-ending details and then allow the reader glimpses without ever describing it fully in the story. If you care about that world too deeply to follow that guideline, just add an addendum at the end, Tolkien style, and pour it all out to your heart's content.

Someone once told me she derived so much pleasure in world building that delaying the writing didn't bother her. Both activities gave her the same level of pleasure, so why force herself to write while she wasn't satisfied with the fantasy world? Her goal was not to write the story, but to have fun both developing the world and then writing the story. So find out what is your goal - and whether the time spent worldbuilding is joyful enough that you aren't frustrated for not yet having finished the story - in order to define how much time and effort you are ready to invest in the world setting.

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Your question confuses me a little. Outside of fantasy and science fiction - world building isn't really a thing. Writers appreciate writing but readers tend to have a preference for stories. Whilst reading readers will often consider: Why are you telling me this? Is this information important? Do I really need to know this? If they deem the information irrelevant that's when they begin to skip increasingly large chunks of text and eventually give up reading.

I'm not a fan of scene setting. My personal method I call NVN (Noun / Verb / Noun). Nothing should exist in a story until something (or somebody) interacts with it. (This method also prevents you from overusing the verb "to be": There is no window until somebody opens it. The character doesn't have long, shapely legs until she pulls her Levis on. etc . .

In a mystery or thriller superfluous information can be problematic as the reader is continually trying to resolve the plot before the denouement.

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