Pre-Writing: 3 Basic Pre-Game Steps for Preparing to Write Your Story

NaNoWriMo is coming up fast. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a novel between November 1st and November 30th, a lofty challenge indeed, but a great way to motivate you to buckle down and get that great idea written.

As I’ve been getting ready for NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d share a few thoughts that have helped me in the steps leading up to writing the actual story. None of these points are the only way to pre-write a story, they’ve just been on my mind as I’ve worked on getting ready for writing this next book.

One of my writing professors once said that writing is the hardest thing anyone can do. Sure, it takes a lot of work to solve a complex math problem or to measure the result of a science experiment, but in both instances, there is a definite, conclusive answer which can be reached by following a formula.

Don’t get me wrong, there are formulas in writing, but often, the writer is the one that must discover the formula, or tailor that formula to themselves. The writer has to create an answer out of infinite possibilities, and then support that with evidence, we call that the story.

Anyway, enough of that. Let’s get to it.

*Note: These steps are not numbered in order of importance

Step 1: Plot Outline

You have a great idea. It’s been mulling around in the ether of your mind for years. You know where you want the story to go, you know the final answer, now you need to come up with the evidence.

There isn’t a right or wrong answer for creating a plot outline. Some writers like to create a specific, step-by-step plot line, from which they do their best not to deviate, while other writers lean toward a kind of ‘discovery writing’, where they have outlined a few major points, but figure out the rest as they write.

No matter which method you prefer, there are a few important things to remember.

Even if you decide to stick to letting the story flow more of its own accord through discovery writing, you’ll still need to identify a few major plot points. At the very least, you must identify points of:

  1. Rising action. This could include character exposition (i.e. getting to know the main and supporting characters), introduction of the tension in the story, and raising questions for the reader which are answered later in the text.
  2. Climax. This is the answer, the moment to which everything has been building up. By the end of the climax, many questions should be answered and many of the reader’s expectations satisfied.
  3. Falling Action/Resolution. This is your conclusion, where you tie up the lose ends and either finish answering the rest of the potential questions, or leave it open enough to keep the reader anticipating the next book.

Step 2: Characters

This is my favorite part of pre-writing.

A story is nothing without characters. These individuals, whether they’re human or inhuman, based on real-life individuals or not, must be created with such a level of detail that they could be real. To the writer, they are real.

You may not tell the reader everything you know about the character, but having a sense of depth into their past, personality, fears, aspirations, strengths, weaknesses, etc., will make them feel real to the reader. We want to read about individuals we can relate to, whether they’re set in a world of fantasy, mystery, or a space opera. When creating a character, the writer has an opportunity to explore what makes one human, the kind of characteristics that transcend time and space.

While you may not plan every single event this character goes through, you’ll want to think through how this character will be different by the end of the story. We want to read about dynamic characters, rather than static. Dynamic characters are changed and shaped by their decisions and experiences, just like any other person.

Stories are about characters. A beautiful, detailed world and an exciting plot aren’t enough to make a story great. It’s well worth it to take time on developing characters.

Step 3: Worldbuilding

This step differs depending on the genre. In a general sense, worldbuilding involves deciding the details related to the physical setting, time period, culture, and history of the environment in which your story will take place.

For example, when I want to write a fantasy story, I know I need to consider what about this world makes it fantastic. This may include fantastic animals, something different about nature or physics, or a magic system. If I want to write a dystopia, I need to make sure I have a believable history which explains why this world is broken. If I’m writing a story set sometime in actual history, I need to make sure I have an accurate understanding of events and places.

Here’s a warning though (and I know how dangerous this can be because I’ve done it plenty of times), don’t get so caught up in worldbuilding that it gets between you and the story. A lot of worldbuilding will take place as you write the story.

So how much is enough? When the world or environment is consistent and believable enough that your story can take place within. A story should drive worldbuilding, not the other way around.

These have been just a few tips that have helped my ideas take shape, but they may not work for everyone, so please be sure to help make this an exchange and share what has helped you in pre-writing your novel.

Thanks for reading!