In this post, I’m going to discuss the process I go through before ever putting a pen to paper (or fingers to a keyboard). Part of this pre-writing process I go through includes determining Story Concept and Premise. So if you would like the complete picture of my process, be sure to check out my posts on both of those topics. You can find them at the links below.
I thought my Pre-Story Structure series was going to end with Story Premise, but I think this post will make a nice addition. I was planning to write about story beginnings this week, but it just didn’t feel right without laying out my pre-writing process in a little more detail.
So, with that said, let’s get into it. The first thing I do is think up an idea for the plot that sparks my inspiration candle. I’m not going to go into detail about how I come up with the ideas, usually they just come to me out of the blue.
Once I get the idea, however basic or general, I will spend time working out the details. For instance, if I get the idea to write a book about a colony of people the size of ants, I’ll ask questions such as: Where do they live? Why are they so small? Do they like being so small? Could the goal of the book be the people endeavoring to find a way back to their normal size? And so on.
I strive to plan enough plot details to keep my book from blowing in every direction based on my mood, to keep it anchored to some form of structure. What I don’t want, however, is to stifle my creative freedom while writing. In order to achieve this balance, I use a checklist. This keeps me from planning to much or planning too little.
So, before I begin writing my book, I decide my main character’s goal, conflict, stakes, climax, result, and resolution. This is my checklist. Now I believe it’s also a good idea to plan some details regarding the setting, other characters, and so forth, but this is the only checklist I hold myself to rigidly. At least before I begin to write.
My character’s goal will drive the emotion of the entire book. Every plot point must relate to that goal. What does my character want?
The conflict will be the thing that stands between my character and their goal. In some cases, this is an actual villain, but it could be a great number of things.
The stakes are what would happen if my character does not achieve their goal. If the stakes are too weak, readers will wonder why my character doesn’t give up. There must be a reason to keep fighting.
The climax is my character’s big choice. All the conflict and all the tension has come to its head. “If the character acts on conscience, despite the pressure of self-interest, he attains his goal. If he doesn’t, his efforts fail. It’s as simple as that.” Quote from Dwight V. Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer.
The result is what happens immediately after the climax. And I always stress that the result should be disaster. If my character chooses to act on his conscience and sacrifice his self-interest, it should look very bleak for him immediately afterwards. And then…
The resolution begins once the resulting disaster dissolves and my character attains his goal. Everything past this point in the story is resolution. No new tension should be introduced, only tension resulting from the climax should be resolved.
Once I am able to detail those six things, I feel ready to begin my book. This is my own personal checklist, derived from several books and articles I’ve read, plus experience from my own books, and it has worked very well for me. The only remaining steps I take are to define my Story Concept and Premise. Then, I’m off!
I hope you found this interesting and helpful. I’d love to hear about your own pre-writing process in the comments.