The next step in my writing process, after brainstorming, is the pre-writing phase.
Now I know they may sound like the same thing but they’re not.
The brainstorming process I described in my earlier post is distinct from the pre-writing process I’m about to describe.
Brainstorming is very free form. Pre-writing is more structured.
Pre-writing is where your story really starts to take shape.
Consider writing your story akin to building a house.
The idea generation and brainstorming process would be analogous to drawing up blueprints. Pre-writing is like pouring the actual foundation. Building the frame so to speak.
It’s important to note that we aren’t concerned with word counts or output just yet. The primary objective of this stage is to build a framework from which to write your story. Theoretically, the more you put into this stage, the easier your actual writing should be.
Yes, I’m a plotter. Sue me.
So what are the components that go into my pre-writing?
I determine the goal, motivation, and conflict. I explore my characters. I build the setting. And then I dive into a scene outline.
First up to bat are the characters. Character drives plot so it’s helpful to take at least a little time up front to get to know the main players in the story. I don’t go crazy and write a whole separate biography for each of your characters, but I want to be able to distinguish them. This means I want to have an idea of their physical appearance. These details may become important to the story at some point. I also need to have some idea of the character’s back story. Even if the details of this back story never actually make it into my finished project, it helps me write better if I know. I need to have a good sense of my character’s personality, especially their flaws. And most importantly, I need to know what my characters wants.
Next, I need to have a decent sense of the setting of your story. Setting is more of an important element at some times than at other, depending on the story I’m writing. It may not play an integral role but it still helps to jot down some quick notes on this topic. I try not to get caught up in describing the place for the sake of describing the place. Instead I focus more on what the significance is for the story. For instance, in White Rabbit, Logan’s house is an important piece of his back story and all the scenes between him and his brothers happen there. In every other scene, he’s somewhere he shouldn’t be or somewhere he doesn’t belong, which reinforces his feeling that he’s an outsider.
Goal, Motivation, Conflcit
Now I get to the three little (but really not little at all) things any story needs to really move forward. That’s the Goal, the Motivation, and the Conflict. I need to know these things in relation to the main character especially (and probably the antagonist too) to write a good story. This is a non-negotiable. What does the protagonist want? What is her ultimate goal in the story? What is her motivation for wanting what she wants? The motivation has to be believable and compelling enough to spur that character into immediate action. What is the conflict? Conflict is essential to a good plot. What stands in the way of your protagonist achieving her goal? What could cause her to lose everything?
Now that I have those foundational elements out of the way, it’s time to hash out the plot itself. I do this by just writing out one big, longhand summary. I try to hit everything that happens in the plot as I’ve imagined it up to this point. One of the most common pieces of writing advice is the “show don’t tell” adage. Well here, I’m doing the exact opposite. I brain dump my plot summary onto however many pages it takes to get it all down.
Working Scene Outline
The last step in my pre-writing phase is to develop a scene outline. I usually start by taking my plot summary and listing the action bullet point by bullet point. I then take this list and divide into roughly three parts, the beginning, middle and end, otherwise known as Act 1, Act 2, and Act 3. More on traditional three act structure here.
It’s important to remember that this is just a framework and not set in stone. It can change and should change when you actually start writing. The idea is just to know what happens where in your book. There are many templates for this online if you feel you need one. Here’s a good example.
As an extra step, I like to take my outline and flesh the scenes out a little more by writing a short scene summary of a paragraph or two. I sometimes do this all at once or write a few ahead or go act by act. I find it very helpful to take time to just brain dump what I want to happen in a particular scene beyond just a quick phrase saying what happens. It makes it much easier when it’s time to actually write the scene.
Next up, I’ll get into the nitty gritty and talk about how I get my first draft done.