Greetings on this first day of May! It finally feels like spring is in full swing!
There’s a lot going on in my writing world right now (and my world in general…). I certainly feel the eager anticipation of new stories and upcoming life changes going into this month.
Last month, I simply wanted to continue development on my new writing project. Since then, I’ve created a more concrete timeline for my pre-writing process. I’ve also decided to pick up an editing project, as I hoped to revise this book in 2019 and realized that the summer months will probably be the best time for me to tackle it this year.
Here’s what I hope to accomplish in the month of May:
New Unnamed Project: Finish World-Building and Character Profiles
The Queen of Imagination: Begin editing process – read through draft, revise outline, character development
Madelynn’s Monthly Musing: My Pre-Writing Process
How do you go about starting a story? No, I’m not referring to your first chapter or where to begin your hero’s journey. I’m talking about the pre-writing stage: development.
The art of writing is super subjective. Writers consist of different peoples of all sorts of walks of life, personalities, preferences, and worldviews—all elements that shape the kind of work that each one of us will ultimately produce. On top of that, the differences in genre, too, call for greater attention in certain areas of development.
This subjectivity not only affects what and how we write, but how we go about shaping our stories. To find the methods that work best for me, I’ve found trial and error to be a useful practice. It’s helped me figure out what kind of outlines produce the best writing sessions for me, how and when I focus on carving out my characters, and how I weave themes into my stories. So far, I’ve attempted dozens upon dozens of variations of the development stages. From templates to the advice of pros, I’ve picked up, tried on, and gotten rid of a few methods for outlining, writing synopses, character and world-building, and theme development over the years.
So…does that mean I have a standard pre-writing structure and plan that I religiously adhere to with each new story?
No. No, it does not.
First, because as a person and as a writer I will continue to grow and change over the years. The trial and error does not stop, ever. We’re constantly learning and growing.
Second, just as every writer needs different tools in their toolboxes that suit their own craft, every story needs a unique roadmap suited to its own needs.
Let me explain with two examples from my own writing life.
For Our Company of Fools, I spent maybe two days on pre-writing. I brainstormed, wrote a flimsy outline, and had a list of partially-developed characters, who were at the time mostly cardboard cutouts of various people I knew. I also established my intended theme for the novel and found a couple of Scripture references to serve as my “theme verses” for the book. Then I wrote. In the process of writing, some characters came alive for me. Others appear in the second chapter and vanish abruptly, because they remained lifeless for me and I didn’t need them. I discovered the finer points of my outline along the way, simply following the thin path my minimal outline provided (and, at a couple of points, diverting significantly from my established path). After the first draft, I started to flesh out the finer details: I made character profiles, determined scenes that needed to go, and rearranged other scenes. I spent considerable time after the first few drafts to develop the rules of my world further. Our Company of Fools was inspired by a moment of passion and deep emotion for me. I needed to jump in and gush out the rough draft (very rough, I might add) in order to capture the heart of the story. So, I spent less time up front developing, and went back to fill in the gaps later. Even when I did fill in the gaps, compared to my other fantasy projects, I spent less words and time on development. For the single-POV, week-long story, I didn’t need that much background to make it the best story it could be.
However, for my current project, I’m focusing on the details up front. As a multiple-POV saga of six books spanning a significant amount of time, I will be devoting thousands of words in story development and I have a structured, step-by-step method to fleshing out the story, including a plan to construct thorough outlines. Why? Well, unlike Our Company of Fools, this project is inspired by years upon years of attempted stories, brainstorming, and character-growth. The characters, world, and plotlines I’m choosing to interweave in this series have existed since my high school years. There’s a lot of depth and story that I have to figure out how to balance. In some ways, it’s like I’m creating a reboot of something familiar. Just like how the Marvel Cinematic Universe (sorry, I’m still not over Avengers: Endgame) builds upon and adapts comic book lore for their own movies, so I’m shaping a new project based upon a lore I’ve been rebooting and reimagining for the past five or six years. There are elements I want to keep and be faithful to my original tales, but there are others that I don’t mind leaving in the past. All that to say, this new project needs organization up front because it is so calculated and complex in its history. This time around, though, I’m more serious than ever about actually committing to writing this story. Also, because it’s existed for so long in my mind (and a few attempts on paper), much of my world and characters don’t need to be discovered in the process of draft writing. I know them more than I knew the characters of Our Company of Fools. I know, too, that I’m heading into a season where I may not be able to write as frequently, so I want to make sure that foundation is firm and easy for me to reference when I need it.
I’m a detail-oriented writer, so I tend to put a lot of emphasis on the development stages. Though when I focus on this development may vary from project to project, I will admit that there are certain things that I must have before I start the first draft in order to successfully write the story to completion. I always make an outline. I always have a list of characters. I always establish my themes with a couple of Bible verses (my “theme verses” for the project). At the minimum, producing that takes a weekend’s work for me. At the most, we’re talking a couple of months. Or perhaps years, if you count the reboots of my current project.
If you’ve read that thousand-word long discussion on development, thank you! I’m a slight nerd when it comes to talking about the writing life and tend to be really passionate about the finer details of the creative process. Ha!
I’m always fascinated by how each of us creatives are so different from one another and appreciate learning from other writers. So, how do you go about starting your stories? Do you have a pre-writing phase? How and when do you develop your stories? I’d love to hear your thoughts!