When I was in Grad School, I studied the concept of mythic world-building as the focus of my Master’s Thesis. To study and work with archetypes to build a whole other kind of world–reflective of the one we live in–can be a very rewarding and even more time-consuming quest.
I was talking with an acquaintance of mine about world-building: about doing research, getting the details just right, figuring out how the laws that govern your world actually work, what events have happened before the main story, the various back-stories that have occurred before and essentially the entire works. It is a necessary process: whether you are trying to make a narrative copy of the world that exists around you or a whole new one that–let’s face it–has some basis in history or imaginings that have happened before.
However, too much world-building can cause problems. I know: that sounds really weird, doesn’t it? How can world-building cause a writer or a story problems? How can there be such a thing as too much?
Well, the answer is that there is. Earlier on, I said it was very time-consuming and it is. You can spend months and years creating a whole world and know the ins and outs of every rule and power that exists there. You can spend that time modifying it too and rewriting it: which is all very well and good until you ask yourself where the story is. You know: the spark or idea that made you so enthusiastic to make all of this to begin with.
Like I said, it can be fun to create your setting, but it isn’t fun when you get so bogged down with the details that you can’t write the story that you set out to make. I imagine that this happens a lot with novelists, but I know from experience that it can definitely happen to short story writers.
So now that I’ve stated the situations, what is my advice on the matter? Well, I’d say–just like I said to my friend–if you have a story you need to write, write it. Just write it. You can deal with details and and corrections later. You can expand on what you have. But if you don’t have anything and only notes, you do not have a story. If you have a crude story, it is still a story and you can build from there: like taking a cutting from a plant and putting it in water … or cloning a whole human being from a limb.
So really, before you get bogged down in too many notes, just write the damned thing: or a damned thing. Damned stories being interesting aside, you will thank yourself for doing this later.
Now, to follow my own advice.