I’d bet all authors love that feeling of having a new, viable idea they can develop into a novel. I DEFINITELY do. It’s one of the most exciting experiences attached to the writing process, on a par with writing that final word of a first draft.
What writers do between having that brain wave (with the subsequent shouts of joy and air pumps of rejoicing) and actually starting to write depends on the author. We all write somewhat differently, with some us writing VERY differently than others.
As long as your process works for you, it’s a valid process and you shouldn’t feel the need to defend it to anyone or feel inferior to writers who do things the opposite way. I have always and will always say that.
Still, whether you want to do a lot of pre-writing or you are more of a “just write, write, write, and see what happens” kind of person, there are a myriad of options available to organize yourself. I wanted to break some of those options down. Here are 7 of them.
(NOTE: I’m not proposing that you use every method here unless you feel inclined to do that. I’m not proposing that you follow these methods in any kind of order. There is no real method to this madness…. Just a grouping of ideas to organize pre-writing.)
1. DOUBLE CHECK THAT YOU HAVE A SOLID PREMISE, USING THE STEPHEN KING METHOD
I really love King’s “On Writing,” and especially the part where he talks about starting a novel with a situation rather than a plot: a scenario that can be developed into plot. Such a situation takes the form of a “What if” question.
My novel “The Crimson League” can be summed up like this: What if a sorcerer nobleman executed a coup and took over a kingdom where most people don’t have, and even fear, magic?
A good “What if” will give you LOTS of options in terms of development. The possibilities might even feel endless. That’s a good thing. Such an open scenario will lead to developing your characters in order to prune things down, which will take you the rest of the way.
2. WHAT EXCITES YOU THE MOST ABOUT YOUR IDEA?
This technique pairs well with the first: making sure you have a “what if” scenario rich enough and complex enough to develop into a novel.
From that point, you can ask yourself: what excites you the most about your idea? Maybe a character you really love jumps to your mind. Maybe you love the propensity your idea has to develop or dissect a particular theme that matters to you. Maybe a particular scene or plot point really caught your interest.
Whatever the case may be, focusing on what interests you the most about your idea will do a number of things:
- It will help ensure you are “writing for you,” which I constantly urge authors to do
- It will keep you engaged and interested in your story when the writing gets tough, because you can remember what you really love about the novel
- It can provide a jumping off point and a focus for your writing, which can be helpful
Once you have your “what if?” scenario, you can brainstorm different characters, different outcomes, and different plot progressions to give you ideas about where your story might possibly go. The whole point of your “what if,” after all, is to make sure your idea is “BIG enough,” so brainstorming can help you winnow things down or take stock of what your choices are.
4. BRAINSTORMING THROUGH FREE-WRITING
This isn’t what it might sound like. This isn’t getting a jump on starting to write the novel. You’re not free-writing fiction here.
Rather, you can freewrite some plot progressions, starting with your “what if” idea. You don’t have to connect all the dots. You don’t have write grammatically or even in full sentences. Just see where a storyline takes you when you don’t get hung up on analyzing the little details. Those can come later. For instance:
What if the sorcerer-duke who took over the kingdom isn’t as secure as he thinks? Wouldn’t people he injured in his take-over fight back? What if there were some kind of organized resistance that sprung up in the kingdom? And what if that resistance had some powerful people–people with magic in it? That makes sense. If it’s going to be any real kind of threat or inconvenience to a dictator who has magic, the resistance will need magic too. Who would join such a fight? People loyal to the true royal family, I guess. And depending on how this sorcerer organizes his rule….
That is an example of a free write based on my scenario for “The Crimson League.” Such free-writing, like brainstorming, will help you create your characters, identify plot progressions, and give you some loose structure that you can tighten up later if you want in:
5. THE OUTLINE.
Come on, we all knew this was coming. The classic outline is a classic for a reason: it’s a great organization tool that many writers use. You didn’t need me to tell you that :-)
6. DRAW, DRAW, DRAW!
Creative writing is art, so it makes sense it can lend itself well to companion graphic art. If you are a talent painter or graphic designer, you can create all kinds of supporting materials for yourself: character portraits, depictions of specific scenes you want to write, landscapes or pictures of important settings, maps, blueprints of buildings…
If you’re really talented, some of your drawings might end up in your finished, published work!
7. CHARACTER SHEETS.
Lots of authors make character sheets. And these sheets can be as individual as you are. There’s no set structure to them. Include whatever information you want:
- family history/lineage
- personal history/childhood
- romantic history
- physical description
- hobbies, interests, and passions
- job information/history
- fears, aspirations
These are only seven among an infinite possibility of pre-writing styles that can be combined, altered, and personalized to suit your needs and tastes. How do you like to pre-write?
Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”
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