I wrote about a year ago about the value of having good world building and how that helped aid the richness of the tale. Most of what I discussed had to do with defining cultural differences (naming conventions and the like) of the various states/kingdoms/empires ahead of time and how that added flavor to the world. That's all good and still believe it, but there's more.
I have never been a big "outline" guy. When I talk about outlining, I usually mean that I have sketched out a very quick idea of the major events of a story, just to get things sequential. I don't get deep or keep a real detailed list of how the story will break down. "Make it up as I go" is pretty much the rule of the road. Much of that comes from writing short stories. In a short story, I think you can get away with it; you have a limited scope and if things go awry, it is harder to paint yourself into a corner, because if you have to go back and redo 2K words, that's easier than 20K words.
But here is something I picked up: there is insane value in having a well-detailed background for the world.
For my NaNoWriMO piece, I wrote a fairly detailed history of the world in which Shattered Colossus is set. I started with omni-scale events that outlined how society kind of stood up and how it developed into the current setting. The closer in the history I got to the story beginning – the more it affected the characters now living – the more detail I added in. I sketched the timeline of the wars, the scale-up events, and the breakdown of the world.
Again, I kind of made it up as I went. I wrote up the events, made up the names and let fly. But this left me with several benefits:
1) It's consistent. When the characters reference past events, including the ones that led to the protagonist returning home to find it deserted, they all refer to the same events, in the same time frame, and in the same understanding. Having that on paper in advance made it much easier to keep all these babblers on the same page, which is not my strength. Again, in a short story, because of scope, I can get away with it in my head. In an epic, with many characters, it has worked out easier to pre-scope it.
2) It's organic. Having the history of the world determined forces me to have the characters act consistently with that history. Because of that, when they discuss the events, it blends with the story seamlessly.
3) It's a source for story material. Having a twenty year history of wars, erupting rivalries between feudal lords, plague, and conquest by a despotic demon-conjuring insane emperor gives me absolutely no end of angles to attack this. Every road the protagonist walks down, I have something to do to him, because something locally has gone wrong.
Granted, this is still not what I would call a hugely detailed list. This is several thousand words in a few RTF documents, with notes on the nations, wars, and minor characters. But it has made writing the novel vastly easier thus far.
So … am I coming around on writing an outline? Not exactly. I used to be hardcore against it. But I am seeing the value. I'm still too lazy to do a full one-
(Muse: No kidding.)
-but so for this effort, it has been very helpful. Food for thought, maybe it will be for you too. Seacrest out.