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Discovery Writers v. Worldbuilders

I’ve been told several times that there are two different kinds of writers. This applies to all writers, though the terminology I use relates most directly to fantasy/science fiction. I have found these classifications absolutely applicable, and have successfully categorized every aspiring writer I have ever met.

The first type of writer is a Discovery Writer. These are people who can just pick up and write. An idea will spark, and they’re off to the races. They discover the story while writing it. Very little will be planned in advance–a sketchy plot outline perhaps, a few character details hashed out. But once they feel like they’ve got the base, they start writing, and pretty much they make it up as they go along.

These will most often be your speed-writers. (Those of you who’ve done NaNoWriMo will know what I’m talking about–those people who end up with several hundred thousand words when you’re struggling to reach the 50k mark.) The plus side of a Discovery Writer is their ability to write without provocation. They usually have a plethora of ideas, but most they are blessed with a drive to write.

The down side of a Discovery Writer is that lack of planning. They’ve prepared very little in advance, so while they may have the soaring wordcount, unless they stop to think things through, the Discovery Writer will often find themselves skimming over details they haven’t completely fleshed out. They may miss opportunities to plant red herrings or subplots. They often miss out on potential depth and detail simply because they haven’t fully processed their creation. Discovery Writers can also find themselves giving up on a story halfway through, because they get bored or frustrated by the work. A Discovery Writer will often have a drawer full of half-written stories, just waiting for the writer to ‘get back to it’.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Worldbuilders. A great many fantasy authors fall into this category, and you can probably guess why. Worldbuilders love details. As the name implies, fantasy-Worldbuilders delve into the creation of intricate societies, cultures, histories, characters, languages, magic, and all the pieces that build the foundation for a story. They treasure the intricate layers. Often this applies to the story as well; Worldbuilders create elaborate plots and subplots to match the worlds they create.

The benefit here is that a Worldbuilder thinks things through. They develop everything from start to finish, from top to bottom. Often, they can’t help themselves, and why would they? This is the fun, imagining everything, working it all out. These are the stories that will keep you guessing, have surprise twists and endings.

A struggle for many Worldbuilders is that many of them are prone to perfectionism. They want to have all the details in place before they start writing–which for many, means they never start in the first place. And once they do start writing, they are unsatisfied with their work, feeling that the words do not live up to what they have imagined. Worldbuilders have a tendency to start, but not get very far in their works. If anyone is most afflicted by their inner editor, it is a Worldbuilder.

So, is one better than the other? Not in the least. Both have strengths that are a benefit to any story, and both have weaknesses that can be overcome with training and perseverance. Or, in our case, getting a coauthor who’s the opposite style, to counterbalance.  The important thing is to understand your own strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and start working to improve yourself. The most important thing is to write, to write consistently, and to keep learning all you can. Time is your ally, so long as you make good use of it.

What about you? Do you discover as you write, or do you build everything in advance?

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