Using Setting to Develop a Plot

alien landscapeI’ve seen many different articles around the inter-webs about plot development.  Usually there are two schools of thought:

  1. Create highly developed character bios and then they will inform what kind of plot needs to develop.
  2. Create a highly developed plot and then the characters will take shape based on the plot created.

I have another idea.

I spent nearly three months or so designing a series of planetary systems complete with flora and fauna, culture, alien races, history, etc.  What I found out is that during this process, I created a backstory that informed the plot of the first novel that I am currently developing and/or writing (I have about 2300 words done).

I think there are several ways that we develop good and engaging plots.  If the setting is rich in description, namely it has a huge catalogue of places, people and things to interact with, I am finding out that it may go very far in developing a plot that grabs the reader and doesn’t let go.  I have never written a novel this way, usually using one of the above methods, but I can say that it is probably the most freeing method of all because I have an entire universe of material to draw from.

The cons of this:

I found out that not having the characters that fleshed out, namely having my setting more detailed than the characters populating it, caused me to have some problems early on with voice and with point of view.  I have since worked those out, and I found the process to be somewhat frustrating at times.

I have finally written a first chapter that is full of action and deep conflict, both internal and external, and I’ve managed to turn a few tropes over on their heads as well.  This came after writing four chapters, filing them away, writing two chapters, filing them away, and then finally writing one chapter that not only has a surprise ending but also ends with the hero becoming severely disabled.  Hopefully this will make the reader want to read on and find out what happens to him.

I am always interested in my reader’s process, so if you go about writing and planning the plot in a different manner, then by all means comment below!  Until then I’ll be eyeball deep in the Five Rim Worlds.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

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