I’m going to confess. When I am plotting or world building the two tend to get very intermixed. I use my world building to help me define plot points and when I have a plot point I want to get to, I use the world to make it happen. I call this the troll-inn-escape. It’s a classic fantasy writing trope. The writer gets stuck so that night a troll bangs open the door of the inn.
It can be lazy writing. “I don’t know what to do, TROLL!” Every time I read or watch that part of the first Harry Potter book (“there’s a troll in the dungeon!”) I wonder if Rowling was struggling to get Harry moving and used the troll-inn-escape. It also gives me hope that just because it’s a little lazy, it can be effective!
My husband came downstairs one Saturday and found me with a bunch of post-it-notes and the wall. I was world building history – so much before my plot began. I needed the main character to go here – why. Oh well, she’s an academic and there’s an ancient library there which she hopes will help give her the information she needs. WHY did this library have the information? Who were these librarians? What was the conflict or issues that stood between her and the library.
I was driving last week to let my mother-in-law spend the day with her grandson and had a world-building thought for a story I’d walked away from (I got stuck – I didn’t have a good antagonist). I might now have the beginnings of an antagonist – both an immediate and long-term antagonist. And it was actually world-building NOT character or plot. I defined something across the universe which I don’t know that the reader will know about, but drives the local antagonism perfectly.