The difference between world-building and story:

  1. The world of Star Wars has planets and aliens and mythology. You could tell any number of stories in the Star Wars Universe, as evidenced by all the sequel and spin off novels that exist.
  2. The story of Star Wars is what’s portable, that has nothing to do with the setting. Here are some terrible examples.

Luke Smith is an orphan in the Old West. One day, he meets a messenger, looking for Old Ben Kennuck, a grizzled veteran. He teams up with Old Ben to save Cherokee Princess Leia from Dark Vic, a deadly gunslinger.

Ryuko Sukaiwaa is an orphan in Samurai times. He meets a messenger looking for Kenobi-sensi, who turns out to be a missing imperial guard. He and Kenobi team up to save the Emperor’s daughter Reiya from Daimyo Abayitsu, an evil samurai lord.

You get the idea.

If you’re stuck on a story, consider writing a one page plot precis and then change the setting. Your story isn’t about worldbuilding or specific details, it’s about archetypal relationships, the primitive, primal stuff. The stuff you could pitch to a caveman. By solving the story in the one page version using, say, old western specifics, you can then translate the old west specifics into something that fixes your actual plot.

We’re not writing RPG sourcebooks here, the most detailed fictional world is meaningless if you don’t tie it to an involving and universal story. Obviously some world building is good, but you don’t want so much that it chokes out the story part of your screenplay.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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