What Happens Before the Writing?

Pre-writing is a thing for me. I have pages and pages of ‘stuff’ that relates to some aspect of the story. Snippets of conversation, an overheard argument between unknown characters, sounds, places, objects. I particularly like rambling about the history of the place they’re in. How it started, why it started, when it grew beyond the initial dream and became ‘somewhere’. It means nothing to the story I write afterward, but it means something to me as I’m writing – it makes it real in my mind.

All these little bits go into the mix for that purpose – to feel real, to make it more than an imagined thing. There’s too much of it to be fake or imaginary. The people have history, the place has history, the underlying tensions and bickering and secrets make it as real as everything around me that I see, hear, touch, smell, experience.

If you know me, you know I plan the stories. I do beat sheets for each character, and I do one for the overall story from an omniscient, or higher perspective. It’s a bit like a wide pan of the environment, then gradually bringing the camera into medium-distance focus, then onto a character (the first is most often going to be the main character, the protagonist). From that point, the story becomes their story.

And I write Act and scene outlines. Short and rough, or long and detailed, but all with the general direction and purpose of movement and the ensuing emotions.

All in all, I write more words in the prewriting of a story than what ends up as the story (except short-short stories, but sometimes, in those as well). And I don’t write directly from the plan. Once all that knowledge about these people is in my head, I write the story without going back to look at the notes from before the story started. Because I know them, I know how their story will play out, and I don’t need those notes or plans.

I just need to write their story, their experiences, their lives that revolve around the story question (that’s the question the reader asks as they wonder what’s going to happen – will they [get it, do it, survive]?).

There are so many different types of plans and structures and shapes and patterns for stories, some simple, some complex, some episodic, some flat, some arched, some mountainous. It’s not those shapes that matter, in the end. Not for me. They show the path the character takes after I know them well enough to help them become more than an idea.

What does that make my writing style? I’ve called myself a planner, but I don’t follow the plan when writing. I don’t call myself a pantser, because it brings to mind visions of running starkers through the streets at midnight, cops in pursuit.

No, I prefer to call it premeditated but uncontrolled journeying. There is a reason and a destination, there are companions and complications to deal with, but there is no map and no compass and definitely no brakes on the vehicle of choice.

Let’s call it the active mind in pursuit of a dream-state. Or meditation. Or something else.

The purpose of all the prewriting is to create reality. Yes, there’s also a ‘shape’ of some sort, but it’s much easier to write because these dramas are part of life, aren’t they? I shape them from a reality of time, space, and location, from memories of a person known well, and I feel their dreams and purpose and pain.

The prewriting is important, to me and the character.

I write stories, and however they come to be, as I write them, they are as real as anything else in this world. I am part of that creation, but not the vessel that holds it.

So, is that crazy or what?

37 thoughts on “What Happens Before the Writing?

  1. I, too, write 10-100 times more words than I will use – but I spend them differently than you do.

    Mine are commonly snippets of figuring out the plot in great detail, with an occasional dialogue bit.

    The character traits are filled in as needed by the plot – and then I ask myself what backstory would allow that character to provide what the plot needs. Then it becomes difficult to tell them apart because files of interesting stuff build up in all directions.

    Dramatica, my plotting software, has interesting ways of looking at characters as part of the plot. Which they are, because space is limited in fiction, and you need your cast to be efficient. But I still find that after I create the characters for their contribution to the plot, they turn into people – because of all the little text boxes that let me think about the details, in writing.

    The real world is like that: interconnected in all kinds of interesting ways. Fiction is an attempt to make sense out of that randomness. To make a point.

    Happy writing. We’re each different in the mechanics – it’s a wonder we can read each others’ stories as well as we do.

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    • Yes, I work with the people first – and find their emotional fear, then build the story based on that element, and incorporate the other character stories around the main character – so if they don’t have something that clashes in some way with her journey, they’re not in this story.


      • Those kinds of questions are built into the way you set characters up in Dramatica – which is why I’m glad I learned how to use it. You literally pick the additional characters to express specific clashes. It sounds awkward and AI and weird, but it’s so flexible in practice that I use it every time I need a new character (and it gives me a place to store all the character information, as well).

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    • Ah, the opposing stance. I know a few people who prefer to work on the story after the first draft.
      We each find our way through the maze from varying perspectives.


  2. I am not really a writer per se just a blogger. But I find it interesting to learn of your approach to writing Cage. It doesn’t seem crazy to me. But then, I like planning and having a plan of action for the day or the week or the month ahead. So maybe your pre-writing would suit me if I ever became a “writer”. Thanks for sharing this process.

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    • Ah, the blogging aspect. I often pre-write short pieces for the blog now, and schedule them. It gives me time to go back and try to make better sense of things.
      However, blog writing is still one form of writing, whether it’s creative non-fiction, or fiction, or any of the other forms of ‘let me tell you about something’. Using words to create meaning – that’s what writing is.

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    • I once wrote an intro book (withdrew from publication, though), but software goes out of date too fast, and I don’t want to do that stuff again – those deadlines (if you do it for someone else), those nightmares that you missed a small thing that will crash the whole suite, etc. etc.

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  3. I research extensively before (or during/ in between) writing. If I cannot see clearly in my mind certain details, in order to be able to describe the scene, I cannot write further. I am a planner, but I can never do the scene by scene or chapter by chapter planning some do. I know how to start, how to end and some milestones in between, during the journey.

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    • That sounds a bit like the person who says he plans only as far as he can see by the headlights! It worked for him, so I can understand that it will work for others. Know as much as you need to know to get to the next stage.
      Thanks for dropping by for a chat.


  4. I have read many posts on the best way to write a story, and yours is the first one that mirrors my own planning. Over the years, I have grown to appreciate the creativity that goes on long before I start writing. And it does make my characters so real to me, as if I have known them for years….

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  5. It has to work for you and this obviously does. Sounds like more work than I have been willing to put into a piece of work to date, which may explain why my very few novel attempts are languishing in various computer files after several years of hibernation.

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  6. That is a lot of extra writing. The one time I tried to write a novel I did something like that. Drawing a family tree, writing down the backstory but I lost interest. So I stick to poetry. Short attention span. ha ha! Still enjoyed this though.

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    • I love reading poetry, but can’t write it.
      However, I don’t do family trees. Not too far back, anyway. A day-to-day life of the character and their closest attachments, although I do like to look into the history of the town and see what ‘made’ it. Sometimes, that adds spice to the tale.

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  7. It sounds like a very good approach to me. I do bits of that but need to train myself to be more thorough. Sometimes I start writing a story and find that I lose track of it halfway through because I haven’t planned it out well enough. I’ve also had that feeling the stories I write are as real as anything else in the world.

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  8. I think a lot of authors can relate to being the creator but not the vessel. Interesting about pre-writing. It’s effective when I do it, but I don’t like to do it, so I usually and stubbornly push straight on to the “real” writing.

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