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UNSTICK Your Plot & SMASH Writer’s Block | Part 2 – Adding OBSTACLES

(+ Other Devices That Further Plot)

Hello Friends!

Welcome to part two of a three-part series designed to get your story started or moving again, even (especially) if you have crippling writer’s block.

Today’s segment tackles how to continue once you’ve gone halfway, gotten stuck, and have no idea how to end, as well as the common issue of having a really well fleshed out beginning and end, but majorly struggling when it comes to figuring out how to connect them. Similarly to the first section, some of the problem and solutions will overlap. If there’s an issue this article doesn’t mention or that you’d like to know more about, please drop a comment below.

Before beginning this next section, I need to impart a small nugget of advice that aspiring writers should keep in the back of their minds while working through the issues and solutions presented below, and that is: Don’t be afraid to abandon your ideas.

Sometimes the reason a story isn’t working is because the author is clinging too tightly to their original ideas (whether plotting or pantsing). Stories naturally evolve and change as we work on them, and trying to force a plot or a character to go in a certain direction might be why the story keeps stalling out. Famously, the Iron Man script hadn’t even been finished when shooting on the movie started (usually not recommended, due to budgeting reasons), but Jon Favreau and his team still managed to pull together all the story elements to create a tight, entertaining, highly re-watchable film. You can bet there were very many changes, deleted scenes, and abandoned threads as they went along! Problem: Half a Story – No Idea How to End

Sometimes we writers, especially pantsers like myself, conceive a story idea, start writing it down (mostly so we don’t forget it) get a quarter or even halfway through, and then get blocked. (It’s possible to get stuck 75% from the end, but it doesn’t happen quite as often as the other two, mostly because by that time, you’ve done so much work you have a fairly good idea of what the ending looks like.)

With this problem, we’ve got a great story, but there’s no ending in sight. Our characters are having grand adventures, but the greater plot isn’t going anywhere. Perhaps we’re even getting bored of writing the story, because nothing interesting seems to be happening. This is about where the dreaded “Writer’s Block” occurs, and writers start to give up. It can be pretty debilitating to look at your work, knowing you have an fantastic concept, knowing that if you could just finish it amazing things would happen, and feeling like you are driving through a thick fog late on a snowy night. The rest of the story is right there in front of you, but you can’t find it.

Let’s look at two simple, extremely handy methods you can use to push through this issue. (Note: simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. You still have to put in the work, but if you’re willing to challenge yourself, you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.)

Solution 1 – Figure out the Ending:

I find I always do my most coherent writing when I have some sort of ending I’m working toward. It is perfectly okay to begin a story with no idea of where it’s going, but unless you’re able to spit out your whole story in one sitting, it’s imperative that you to sit down and work out an ending at some point.

This goes back to our discussion of goals in part one. Your ending could showcase the goals of your characters or it could feature the larger narrative goal of you, the author. Do you want to use themes to teach a life lesson? Are you exploring healing from trauma? What does a scorched earth end up looking like? What is the ultimate thing you want your audience to experience and remember?

Does the romancer get their sweetheart? Does the hero save the day? Does the detective catch the killer? Does the mobster evade the police? Do the explorers reach a new continent? Does the anti-hero enact revenge?

+Warriors+ by ERA7

Whatever goal you set at the beginning of the story, determine whether or not it will be reached, and what consequences will follow. Then you can continue to work toward that ending. And that ending might change the closer you get to it – it might not even work with the beginning at all! But that’s a problem for later drafts once you’ve already gotten through from start to finish. On the first draft, just envision that ending and then focus on getting there.

Solution 2 – Plot Twists

Plot twists, or at the very least, several good turns that take the story in a unexpected, but not illogical direction keep the story interesting for you as an author, and help to create conflicts and obstacles that your characters must solve and overcome.

For instance, imagine a group of friends have been going on a grand quest to destroy an evil dragon that has been terrorizing their kingdom. Only – PLOT TWIST – it turns out that a member of the friend group is one of the dragon’s children in human form. The implications of this and how it effects the ending can propel your story in ALL sorts of new directions.

Both of these solutions will likely require some serious brainstorming as you put them into practice. This is where all the other advice you’ve likely read about how to cure writer’s block comes into play:

  • Going for walks
  • Watching/reading/consuming other media
  • Listening to music
  • Doing creative writing exercises
  • Looking at writing prompts online
  • Throwing darts at a bunch of ideas on a board
  • Etc.

Don’t forget about the twist ending either. Leaving your reader thoroughly unsettled is quite a sought after feeling in the horror and thriller genres.

Problem: Beginning and Ending – No Middle

A lot of people struggle with middles because they find them uninteresting. They have to figure out how to connect the “ordinary life” beginning, and the “everything’s changed” end. They think the middle has to be some boring mess that slogs along until we get to the real action.

In my opinion, the middle should contain some of the most exciting parts. (Not too exciting, as we don’t want to overshadow the ending, but something that will definitely keep readers on the edge of their seats.) Of course, you’ll want breathing spots to let the readers and characters digest the crazy going-ons happening, but ideally, once you’ve passed about the 25% mark, the stakes should continue to escalate until you’re driven into the finish. The middle shouldn’t be something readers or watchers have to endure to get to the end, but contain rather some of the most compelling and memorable sections, making the story both hard to put down and something they’ll come back to over and over again.

But how do we make that happen?


This solution has two related prongs. One is to shake things up, and the second is to build tension. Both of these can be accomplished – to greater and lesser degrees – by introducing obstacles the characters then have to overcome.

At this stage you should be starting to pull together all the elements mentioned so far in this series. With that in mind, here’s a very simple diagram to illustrate how writers might lay out story structure:

As you can see, it’s that middle section (Obstacles>Overcome) that gets a lot of people stuck, so we need to start incorporating the fixes I’m about to walk us through.

(Your obstacles and tension builders can really be anything, but I’m going to be focusing on five common, easy ideas to which you can build upon and expand as necessary.)

  1. Add/Remove Characters

One simple but phenomenally great thing you can do to shake up a sagging middle is to introduce new characters. These new players can either be a help or a hindrance to our heroes. This is something that happens quite often on long-running television shows. Take for example, the character of Jack in Supernatural. At first, it wasn’t clear whether he was an ally or an enemy, but his mere existence caused a whole plethora of problems that the brothers Winchester had to solve, thereby injecting fresh life into the series in its twilight years

Arrow did this to great effect when they introduced Slade in the latter half of season one. Although eagle-eyed fans may have caught the Easter eggs in the first episode that pointed to the character’s existence in the Arrowverse, his actual appearance really shook things up and created some of the most exciting episodes in the entire series.

Introducing new characters is also a fantastic way to keep your story from being too cluttered at the beginning, giving readers time to process the new additions instead of trying to keep track of too many people all at once.

On the other hand, it can just as effectively disrupt the story if characters are taken away. The A Song of Ice and Fire series is famous for this very thing, with each removal of key players pushing the story along in new and exciting directions. The Death Note Manga also does this to great effect.

Thus, if your story has started to stagnate, you might just find that adding or taking away a character is exactly what you need to shake things up. This doesn’t have to be solely narrative (that is, happening within the text). If, as you are writing, things have gotten stale, you may want to permanently remove characters (or combine extraneous characters into one) and you might find that getting rid of characters your story never needed in the first place solves all your issues. This is more revision type work, but if you’re really stuck, it doesn’t hurt to try it on the first draft.

  1. Plot Twist/Turn/Betrayal

We mentioned plot twists in the section dealing with how to end your story, but it applies just as well in the middle.

Plot twists are often (especially within the crime and thriller genres) revealed near the end, but there’s no rule saying you can’t throw a bunch of them into the middle. I personally think it builds tension much better if you aim for plot turns rather than complete twists in the middle. That way, instead of introducing something that completely turns everything we knew on its head too early, you can more subtly bring in a new story element that broadens the context of the story while making narrative sense so that readers aren’t blindsided.

For example, in the first book of the Mirrowen series, Fireblood, there are three characters working together for a common goal. However, you get the feeling throughout the first half of the book that something is not quite right. And then, once the POV splits between the characters, we get into their heads and discover that one of them has been working against the others’ aims the entire time. When you get to this moment, it injects an incredible amount of tension into the story, because you as the reader know the character could choose to betray the others at any instant, and you’re just waiting for the moment things go wrong.

This segways nicely into our third idea here, which is betrayal, in of itself a type of plot twist. This is a favourite of mine and other authors, because if you can get your audience to care about all the characters, when one of them turns out to be a turncoat, and worse, hurts our main characters because of it, now you have all of these conflicting feelings that have enormous potential to spin the story in intriguing directions.

  1. Make Things Harder

A third device you can execute to pick up a struggling middle is to make things harder for your characters. Especially if it’s an adventure story, you want to be pushing your heroes to the point of no return.

For example, your hero might have gotten halfway through their heroic quest to free the land from the troubles plaguing it, but then they misplace their trusty sword. Perhaps it is stolen, or lost during battle. Either way, with less tools at their disposal, our hero must resort to other means to continue.

Let’s look at The Little Mermaid. In gaining the ability to walk, Ariel loses her ability to sing, which prevents her from instantly connecting with the prince, forcing her to try and win him over in other ways. Then, just when Eric is starting to really fall for her, Ursula shows up using Ariel’s stolen voice to lure him away. Each one of these mishaps forces Ariel to try something different to achieve her goal, keeping the story interesting as we navigate its twists and turns. Along the way, we admire and appreciate Ariel’s tenacious spirit and determination to never give up on her dreams, no matter what happens.

  1. A Ticking Clock

A very easy way to breathe some life into an otherwise dull story is to add a ticking clock. Often, this is set up from the beginning, but countdown timers can be introduced anywhere you need some narrative tension. In Avatar the last Airbender, Aang has to master the four elements before the arrival of Sozin’s comet. In many romances, the heroine has to find a man before she is no longer eligible to be married or is past child bearing age, and in Avengers, Steve and Tony must work together to repair the helicarriers before they drop from the air, killing all aboard.

Stringing a mounting series of ticking-clock moments together can be a particularly fun way to push a story forward, ratcheting up our heartbeats, and then giving us a sigh of relief when the heroes prevail once more.

Another reason why including a ticking clock is so helpful is because it lays out some very immediate – and usually devastating – consequences if the characters were to fail. We want the characters to succeed because we can’t help but imagine ourselves in those sorts of situations and can clearly picture what would happen if everything went wrong.

  1. Let Your Characters Fail/Let the Bad Guys Win

This is one of my absolute favourite story elements to throw into the mix. Although good stories can be written around the heroes cleverly winning all the time à la Leverage or Sherlock Holmes, a fantastic way to shake things up is to defeat your heroes. This often happens at the end of act one or two for three-part structures, but can occur anywhere you need it to make sense while drafting. One great example of this is again found in Avatar the Last Airbender. Season two ends with the gaang (after many success throughout their adventures so far) thoroughly defeated and forced into hiding by their enemies.

Avengers: Infinity War utilises this very effectively as well. For Thanos to be perceived by us as a real threat, he actually had to succeed with his plan to destroy half the life in the universe. The worst had to happen, and our heroes had to be beaten down to their lowest to raise the stakes to the absolute maximum boiling point.

So, if you find that you’ve tried everything else and your story has lost steam, have your characters fail. Let them lose the thing that makes them special. Have their friends and allies be captured and mistreated. Let the villains accomplish their objectives. And then go from there.

As a side note, comedies are often filled with strings of micro failures, which keeps things moving along and brings smiles to our faces as things go more and more absurdly sideways until the ultimate happy ending.

When we utilise these story elements, we move the story beyond just a set of obstacles to be overcome. Because, while at its core that’s what a narrative is—setting up obstacles that the characters must overcome to save the day (or fail—spectacularly in the case of tragedies)—simply repeating this process of Obstacle>Overcome>Obstacle>Overcome until we get to the end becomes formulaic and extremely boring.

(When this is played out on television, a common complaint is that the show feels like a video game. Character gets a task, character does a quest to complete the task, character gets rewarded, character gets new task, ad infinitum till the end of the game is reached.)

With the above taken into account, our story diagram now looks like this:

Side note: My use of the word “Reaction” here is not to imply that the characters are passive, merely that they are going to be acting upon continuing events, even if that means they have actively decided to push the story forward. All of these connecting story points can be driven either by external forces or the characters themselves as you so desire.

Tertiary Issues:

In this last section I mention a few things that can cause writers to get stuck once they hit the middle.

Problem: You Need to Write a Fight/Kiss/Medical Scene, But Lack the Required Knowledge

This issue trips up many writers when they get into the nitty gritty of writing. Sometimes you reach a particular scene, and a kiss or a fight or a medical emergency etc. needs to happen, and you don’t know how to write it.

Solution: Brackets

There are two things that have to eventually be done. No 1. is to make up something and hope it sticks, and second is to do some research. Both these options have cons, with the second really having the potential to take writers down a research hole that stops them from writing (although if this is your process and it works for you, you don’t have to deviate from it).

To prevent this and keep the flow going, you can simply put a pair of brackets around a sentence describing what happens, with a note to come back to it later i.e. [EPIC FIGHT SCENE HERE, FLESH OUT LATER]. I personally like to use uppercase within said brackets, as it helps these parts to stand out, thus making them easier to find when revising.

Most anything you find yourself struggling with in terms of sentence/scene level execution is a draft two problem. The good news is, if you keep writing and practicing the craft and increasing your general knowledge, your first drafts have the potential to become cleaner and cleaner, which gives you less to wrestle with in subsequent revisions.

Problem: You Don’t know to End – Solution: Resolution of Goals

This is a small section because while endings can be difficult, in the first draft, we are just aiming to get there. Whether it’s good or not (and really, this is the question most writers are actually asking, how do I write a good ending) is unimportant at this stage. If you’ve been following along, I’ve already provided the answer, and it is to have your characters fail or succeed in their ambitions. Anything extra can be added in subsequent drafts.

Problem: Writing is Overwhelming

You might object that what prevents you from finishing is not your lack of knowledge in any of the storycraft mentioned heretofore in this series, but rather that writing a story, of whatever length, seems so incredibly daunting.

To that I must quote Lao Tzu:

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Solution: – Chapter by Chapter, Scene by Scene, Sentence by Sentence

It can takes years to complete a full-length first draft. This is often because aspiring writers are learning the craft at the same time as writing their story. The key is to break it down into manageable parts. Just work on drafting a chapter or a scene or a paragraph at a time. All the elements mentioned above can be repackaged into smaller sections. As you go, add them all up until they equal a story at the end. The most important part is never giving up, no matter how long it takes.

One last item worth mentioning is that it can be helpful to switch up how you are writing if nothing is coming to you. Locking yourself in the box of only writing from first person, or telling the story from a particular character’s perspective, or sticking religiously to prose etc. might be preventing your draft from reaching its fullest potential. Consider all the different lenses from which your story might be told, and if one style or point of view or tense isn’t working, experiment with using another instead.

That concludes Part 2, and hopefully you now have a grasp on how to develop and get to the end of your story. Next up, we move from looking at pushing through the middle to what tools you’ll need to have in your writer’s toolkit to make it all come together. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss Part 3!

Happy Writing,

UNSTICK Your Plot & SMASH Writer’s Block | How to Create a Story from Nothing – Part 1

Hello Friends!

Welcome to a three-part series designed to get your story started or moving again, even (especially) if you have crippling writer’s block.

Throughout this series we’ll be looking at divers groups of problems and issues centering around creating and continuing a story from nothing, and discussing how to solve them.

Essentially, crafting a plot that gets you through from start to finish is little more than having a beginning and an ending point and placing obstacles in between that your characters must overcome. The more obstacles you throw in front of your characters, the longer or more twisty the plot can be.

This series focuses on getting you through the first draft, which doesn’t have to be perfect, doesn’t have to be fully fleshed out – it doesn’t even have to be good! – it just has to get done. Story elements such as theme, metaphor, and characterization hopefully reveal themselves as they go along – if you haven’t already plotted their inclusion – but don’t worry if such elements remain elusive in the beginning stages. Upon revising and redrafting your writing, you’ll be able to expand and add to your story as necessary.

This series mainly focuses on novel writing, but the concepts within also apply to the broader storytelling medium (film, video games, and the like), and many of the examples used throughout will pull from various different sources.

Part 1 – No Thoughts Head Empty

Part one of this series tackles common specific problems that crop up when starting a story and how to resolve them. A lot of these issues feed off each other, so there’s going to be some overlapping content, as is common when working with any type of art. If there’s an issue this article doesn’t mention or that you’d like to know more about, please drop a comment below.

Problem: I Want to Write a Story – No Idea How or Where to Start

This problem is more common with very new writers, whether they’re 12, 21, or 92. You sat down one day and decided you were going to be a writer. Maybe you have one or more of the other elements that will be mentioned below in your mind, but you haven’t the faintest clue of how to make it all come together. More than that, perhaps you don’t even know how to start!

All you know is that you have an empty page, and, somehow, you have to fill it.


First, you should ask yourself, why do I want to write? Is it because a teacher or a friend suggested I should? Is it because I have an idea that needs to be shared with the world? Is it because I want to be rich and famous? Is the person who inspires me the most an author, and I want to follow in their footsteps? Is it because I have these characters knocking around in my head that won’t go away?

Once you’ve identified your initial motivation, if you have absolutely nothing, go and find something to inspire you. Read a lot of books, watch a lot of movies and plays, go for long walks in nature. You might even just put a list of subjects on a board and throw a dart at them. However you do it, pick a theme or an idea and start brainstorming.

For example, when looking outside I see the trees, which makes me think about leaves. So I could write a story about leaves or bark or roots. Once I’ve picked my subject, I’m going to keep it simple to start. I’ll write about the leaves falling in the autumn. By basing my story in reality, it’ll be easier to construct because I have something tangible from which to draw.

But just writing about leaves falling, with no twist to it, is simply writing my observations about nature – nice, but not a story. So I’ll focus on one leaf. I’m going to anthropomorphise this leaf, giving it a name and a personality. Now I have a character – let’s call him Rustle (the sound of the leaves when the wind blows through them, conveniently also a homophone of the name Russell) – and I’m going to give him some character. He’s afraid of autumn, because he’s already seen several other leaves fall, and he doesn’t want to leave his home in the tree.

I could have Rustle reminisce about how he got to this point, remembering all the things that could conceivably happen in a leaf’s life – a bird defecating on him, a caterpillar munching away, providing shelter during a rainstorm for a lady bug, feeling the sun on his face during a warm summer day, being an artist’s study, and so on. And then Rustle could speculate about what is coming next.

Ultimately, when he does fall (and perhaps this is a bit of a sad story) he could observe how, on the ground, he provides covering for the worms, or maybe he’s essential to the building of a leaf tipi, or is gathered up and made part of a leaf pile for young children to jump into. Perhaps, at the end, he is saved and framed on somebody’s wall, or made part of a lovely autumn wreath.

We could end with Rustle realising that perhaps fall isn’t so scary after all, and he’s experienced so much more than he would have if he’d stayed forever in his tree.

It’s a simple story, but it illustrates how you can pick literally anything to write about.

To recap, if you want to write, first identify your reason – it could be as simple as that you want to try it and see what happens – then pick a subject, inject some personality, and go from there.

Problem: Awesome Idea – No Clue How to Turn it Into a Story

Sometimes, you come up with an ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT idea (this is often what is called “high concept” in fiction), something like Inception, that runs on the premise: “what if you could enter into someone’s dreamworld and influence their mind?” and more subtly: “what if you couldn’t get out?” but you have no characters, no plot, no worldbuilding, no nothing besides the idea.


I’m a character focused person, so I like to start there with my idea before adding other elements that will lead me to a coherent plot.

If you do start here, it’s often a good idea to consider whether your character will be mostly good, mostly bad, or somewhere in between. Then consider whether you want them to change or stay static over the course of the story (in which case, the world around them should change). You’re going to be asking a lot of “what if” questions during this process.

Look at The Terminator. It asks: “what if machines ruled the future? What if someone created a vibrant resistance to the machine overlords?” and then, the twist question, “what if one of those machines went back in time to preserve their own existence?” You can see how all these questions led James Cameron from his initial dream idea to the creation of an unfeeling, near-unstoppable, killing machine that we can’t help but watch in fascinated horror.

If starting with world-building, you’ll want to question how a particular idea would affect you, your friends, or the world you live in, if it were reality. You can really get into some exciting stuff with world-building as you re-imagine what society would look like if we never got away from the inventions of the industrial revolution (steampunk) or if science could give people superpowers (Marvel Comics) or if dragons lived at the same time as the vikings (Skyrim).

Once you have some answers to these questions, you can throw in a couple characters, give them a goal, and start placing obstacles in their way.

If starting with theme, try asking: what do I want my audience to come away thinking about? Often this method will lead you to start with the end of the story and build backward and is more often found in stories that tend to lend themselves to tragedy; think Romeo and Juliet or Jurassic Park. The first teaches us the dangers of never-ending feuds, the latter, the danger of playing God with science.

Once you have your world, your theme, and characters, however tightly or loosely you’ve crafted each element, you can now begin to build out your plot – if it hasn’t already started to come to you during these processes. Again, as stated at the beginning, what you want to do is pick a goal, whether internal (coming from the characters) or external (coming from what you want your readers to experience) and work toward that by creating challenges that your characters have to solve and overcome (or fail to overcome as the case may be.)

Problem: Awesome Characters . . . And Nothing Else

Sometimes, especially for the visual artist types (and often those going into writing comic books and video games and such), you come up with a great character or ten. These characters can be as simple as a face and general description, or they might spring into your mind fully formed, with a tonne of backstory. However, you might feel a little bit like a kid who’s just opened a pack full of Lego minifigures. You’ve got all these neat people inhabiting your fictional world – now what to do with them?

This is actually less of a problem than you might think. Amazing characters can make even the thinnest of plots work when written correctly. It’s why we enjoy programmes like Scooby-Doo or Brooklyn 99 or Supernatural, because while the plot can be fun and engaging (or sometimes, really, really silly), often in these types of shows, the story is less about the overarching narrative and more about how the characters relate to each other and the obstacles they face. Combining great characters with decent world-building and a solid narrative is what makes for a very memorable story. (Designing fully fleshed out characters can happen at any time during the writing process, so don’t worry too much if your characters feel somewhat flat or wooden in the first draft.)


Before we fully dive into the solution, it’s worth considering what storytelling medium you’d like to use, as playing with format and setting is going to give you a better idea of what direction to take your story in.

Would your characters be well suited to a full length epic novel? Would they work better in a novella? Should you choose a slice-of-life comic book instead of a 90 minute screenplay? There is also genre to consider, as a character thrust into a sweet romance is going to act and react quite differently than the lead detective in a thriller novel. Explore multiple different options, and see what fits best.

Once you have that, it’s time to formulate your plot. Take what you know about your characters and give them a goal.

Depending on your world building, you may have to create a Disruption Event of some kind.

For instance, say you have a humdrum character living in a boring little town. Nothing bad has ever happened to them, and they’re enjoying their life. Then a sudden summer freeze kills off the town’s crops. People fall on hard times. Your main character (or someone close to them) loses their job. Now their main ambition is to return things to the status quo – or simply to survive. That’s their goal. How they accomplish or fail to achieve that goal is your story.

If we take a more complex character – say they’re existing in a world where they’ve lost a lot already, and they’re just trying to survive – they have friends (or have lost them and are living with the memories), and are constantly dealing with pressure from all sides. They make a decision to help a lost child and find themselves drawn into a brewing civil war. How your already well fleshed-out character reacts to these events, and how they change (or don’t, but how the world around them changes as a result of their actions) is your story.

Not every story needs a Disruption Event if your character has a clear goal – revenge, money, love, fame, success – (although adding one – or several! – can certainly spice things up, especially if the Disruption Event is actively preventing your character from accomplishing their dreams) and characters are often more interesting in these types of stories, proactively pursing their ambitions instead of reacting to the story around them.

Once you have your character’s goal pinned down (and this can certainly change throughout the story as they grow and become a different person), it’s imperative to place obstacles in the way of them achieving this goal. These can be internal or external.

For example: a young woman who wants to find love but is stymied by her crippling shyness, a mouse who wants to become a warrior but has never even left the nest, or a young man who wants to become a starfighter pilot, but is stopped by having his home destroyed and is forced to go on the run after receiving a message that holds the key to undermining a totalitarian government. (Yes, this is the plot of Star Wars.)

As mentioned before, how your character reacts to these obstacles and eventually reaches – or fails to reach – their goals is your story. Either type of ending can be a tragedy or a happily ever after, based on what happens along the way.

Problem: Awesome World-Building – No Characters or Plot

This section is related to the high concept idea, but focuses more on everything both tangible and intangible that our heroes might come into contact with. To use Star Wars as an example again, from blasters to ewoks, to ‘freshers and spice, all the details that make a fictional universe feel lived-in and believable form the world-building aspect of your story. You might find that you are absolutely brilliant at creating the nitty gritty details that make up your fantasy world, but you have no clue how to populate your world with people or take your aesthetic and turn it into a coherent narrative.


Similarly to the Awesome Characters solution, it’s very helpful to consider what genre you want your story to inhabit. Sometimes the world-building on its own lends itself to the genre, but just because a world is, say, set in space, doesn’t mean it can’t also be a western (The Mandalorian) or a romance (Sirantha Jax series). Perhaps you’ve been playing with a high fantasy setting, but the narrative revolves around a series of murder mysteries, making it a detective story or a thriller. What kinds of characters would inhabit these subgenres? What would their stories look like?

Plumber by Punchyninja

Pick underutilised professions to highlight. What does a plumber or other type of handy man look like in this fantasy world? What problems would they encounter? What about doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals? How is information disseminated, and what types of characters are at the centre of that?

Challenge your world-building to extend beyond aesthetics to structures of religion or government. Look to real life to derive inspiration for the types of conflicts that arise from these structures, and keep drilling down until you reach the characters making the decisions that will drive the machine of your story.

Once you’ve applied your world-building to characters, ideas, or themes, sprinkle in some Disruption Events that shake up your carefully constructed world. Consider how the world-building can both solve and create problems. One good example of this is the Warriors series, which seriously examines the concept of cats having nine lives. On the one hand, our heroes have multiple chances to cheat death. On the other hand, this knowledge both makes them a target of enemy clans and gives them a false sense of confidence, leading them to act more recklessly than they might otherwise.

You can also use world-building to explore what happens when well meaning ideas are taken to an extreme, as is the case with The Giver, which presents a beautiful utopia on its surface but hides a dark truth, or Farenheit 451, which contemplates a reality where ideas running against the norm are literally destroyed.

(As an aside, if you are struggling to come up with characters to begin with, there are all sorts of character-building exercises you can find on the web, and if that fails, it’s a tried, tested, and true method of authors to base characters on people they know in real life.)

That concludes Part 1, and hopefully you now have a grasp on how to start your storytelling journey. Next up, we move from looking at beginning the story into how to develop and finish it. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss Part 2!

Happy Writing,

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