Last week, we discussed an overview of the complete writing process. Now that we all have a better understanding of the process as a whole, we can take an in-depth view of each stage. As I have said previously, no two writers have the same process or style, so there is no single catch all that works for everyone. So, what may work for me may not work for someone else. The process that I will be discussing is what works best for me. I hope that in the end, I will have given you ideas that can be incorporated into your writing process. That being said, let’s jump into the prewriting stage.
There is no part of the writing process that I enjoy more than character creation. As a writer, it is the characters that act as the medium between you and your readers. It is vital that your characters have depth and characteristics that your readers can relate to. This is where you make sure it happens.
Knowing your characters is at least as important as your plot line. After all, if you are unsure how your character will react in a given situation, or how your character sounds when they speak, how can you actually write their story? So, get to know them. Once you have a name, move onto a physical description and a back story. I have dozens of short stories written about my main characters that tell their history. There are also many tools and worksheets available on the net to assist you in your creation process. Here are some examples that I was able to find.
I recently had a discussion about writing with someone who said they had no creativity to write. After a while, he turned to me and explained that there was one thing that a writer can do that he will forever be envious of. He laughed and told me that he wished that he were able to create his own world. From alternate histories to entire solar systems. Just thinking about it, he was clearly overwhelmed. Not until he mentioned it did I consider just how amazing it actually is to create a world in a book.
Typically, when people think about world building the first thought is toward science fiction and fantasy. After all, fantasy writers have to create an entire world, cities, towns, peoples, history and lore. Science fiction multiplies this by not just creating a world, but entire systems and even galaxies. The thing to remember however, is even if you are not building an entire world or galaxy, world building plays an important part to every story. From alternate histories to a real world setting, the world you create in your story deserves attention.
When building your world, it is the small details that count. Take for example that you are using a real world setting such as a city. Take some time out to get to know that city. If you live there, take a walk of go for a car ride and take notes of what you see. Pay close attention to roads, stores and local attractions. If you live too far away to physically investigate, look at maps, pictures and even weather forecasts. Just think about how much those small details will mean to your readers, especially the ones that live where your story is taking place.
Now that you have your solid base of characters and setting, it is time to bring it all together. It is time to make your outline. Now, an outline can take many shapes and forms but the premise remains the same; write the basic timeline and story elements that will shape your plot. Typically, I utilize a bullet style format that lists what will take place in each chapter. This way, I am able to ensure the flow of the story, the progression of the plot and character growth. I find that by using this process, when you get to the actual writing stage, helps the story writes itself.
There are many forms of outlines and tools available out there. Another popular option is the snowflake method. There is a quote from the television show The West Wing that best explains this process, “[Snow] accumulates by a magnitude.” The same is true with the snowflake method. It starts with a simple statement. “Tom’s wife is killed in a botched robbery.” From there, another layer accumulates and grows. “Tom’s wife is killed in a botched robbery and he seeks revenge on the man that killed her.” It is an ever expanding process where the snowflakes are added and before you know it, you have your story.
Another outlining option is a great tool for writers who have an idea, but are having difficulty in organizing a timeline. The index card method allows you to write down all of your ideas on index cards in no particular order and worry about the sequence later. Once all of your ideas are written down, you go through card by card and lay them out in an order that makes sense in a timeline. Read like a storyboard, you can add further cards and ideas as they come up to make your story work.
Deciding to write a story or a book is a major commitment. Very few people can simply sit in front of a computer or a notebook and just write. These prewriting steps can greatly increase your ability to write a better story. By taking the time to build a base for your story, you will be able to not only cut down on the time it takes you to write your manuscript, but also ensures that your story moves along and makes sense.
I hope that some of the ideas mentioned here will provide you with help in your current and future prewriting endeavors. Next week, we will be discussing the first or working draft of your manuscript. In the meantime, keep your pens, pencils or computer keys going and write your hearts out.