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?