I was discussing Serdar’s upcoming worldbuilding-intense novel Unmortal. It’s a setting with many stories, but his philosophy is one novel a setting, so he told the most important story to tell. I commented offhandedly, “In a 1000 years find the most important day.”
What story do you tell in a world is a powerful question.
We usually build worlds for a reason because we have some idea of what story to tell. But if you’re a heavy worldbuilder (like myself), questions arise as you write the first story or plot the next. You have to ask “what is the story worth telling?”
Without spoiling my plans, my Avenoth novels originally focused on college students and faculty in a techno-mystical world. Without spoiling my plans, my initial plot was not as interesting as asking how did we get here. In a way, I ended up writing prequels to a novel that may never be – exploring what kind of people teach in a world of internet-using gods and mystic technology.
The second novel, “A School of Many Futures,” was a similar experience. Originally the story was a mix of murder mystery and parody of conventions and trade shows. It would see my collection of hyper-competent but oddball heroes try to shepherd a group of students through rolling chaos at a giant convention. It was amusing, but the story was just “an idea,” and it didn’t have reason to exist.
As two of the characters are freelance teachers, the notes that became “A School of Many Futures” fit far better. It fit my themes, fit the characters, and let me further explore the themes mentioned above. It also fit my greater goals of deconstruction, and it was a pleasure to take on the “magical school adventure” trope.
What about my unused ideas? My extensive notes have been used in a world guide for readers and may be used in an RPG. Avenoth is a large setting that plays with tropes – perfect for a game. Your unused ideas may find similar life in other places.
As writers, we must remember our audience only has so much time, and we have so much time to write. Asking “what is the story worth telling?” is a question we can’t avoid.