You’ve finally done it! You’ve come up with a great story idea, and you’re ready to start writing your amazing story. Or are you? I’m sure you’ve heard stories about the writer who has started a novel or screenplay but lost steam and tossed what they did have in a drawer, never to be looked at again. I, too, have had an idea and just started into it with no real direction, only to see the idea fizzle out quicker than it popped into my head.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Behold the fun and excitement of pre-writing! While the word may bring back memories of writing those dreaded 500-word essays for your high school English class, pre-writing can positively affect your creative work. It can also help you create a useful road map to get to your final destination: the end of your story.
So, let’s talk about some of the ways you can pre-write your way to a completed draft of your next novel, play, screenplay, short story, or other written work.
Once you’ve established your story idea, maybe even have a few characters and plot points in mind, it’s time to take your mind on a trip. Sit down with a pad and pen and start writing down ideas for your story. It doesn’t matter if they are good ideas, ridiculous ideas, crazy ideas, or even ideas you think are stupid. Write them down. Every idea has a purpose until it’s no longer needed once you begin to craft your story.
The same with characters, too. Who are they? Write mini-bios and descriptions for them. What are their relationships to each other and the story? Remember that none of this is set in stone, and you can cross-out, use arrows, or do other notations as you begin to build the story and characters.
Your goal here is to get the ideas out of your head and onto paper. Even in this crude form, you can begin to visually see your ideas in words on the page. You can also draw diagrams and maps if that helps you to work on different aspects of the story or characters.
This should be a fun activity where you play around with different ideas and concepts. Don’t commit or reject any ideas 100% at this point. You only have one goal here: to flesh the story and its characters out on paper.
Why is this useful? I’ve found that if I’m working on a story in my head and not writing things down, I tend to either forget the idea I had or repeat it in my head and cannot move on to another aspect of the story. Getting it down and out – for the record, so to speak – allows your brain not to stress about forgetting the idea and frees up your brain for more ideas to flow in.
Keep a Notepad Handy
Getting the story out of your head, as I said above, frees your mind to create more. And your creative brain has no set schedule. Ideas can come at any time, so it’s a good idea to have a notepad handy at your bedside or even a Notes file on your phone. Then, when snippets of dialogue, description, or other creative thoughts pop into your head, you have a handy place to jot them down.
Check out my article called The 3AM Idea for more on this topic.
Fun Fact: Larry David (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) carries a pocket notebook with him all the time in the event an idea strikes!
We all tend to procrastinate, whether it’s with writing or other tasks. We’re human. But, what if you took that procrastination and made it work for you and your writing?
If you’re writing historical fiction, you could find a documentary about that period on YouTube and learn about it while hanging out on the couch.
In fact, most topics in your story probably have a video about them on YouTube. If you’re going to be scrolling through and looking for videos anyway, you might as well watch a few videos that will help with your story.
Think about the topics, themes, character traits, activities, or locations in your story. Now, look up that particular item on YouTube. Watch a few videos and see if you can glean some new information that can help enhance an aspect of your story or gives you a new perspective.
This is especially helpful if you want to have your story in a real location that you cannot easily travel to due to the current world situation. You can find videos about most countries, cities, and regions worldwide and use that to inform your work.
You can then add these new ideas to your brainstorm notes, and make sure to bookmark or save the videos that effectively helped with your research.
And you didn’t even have to get off the couch to work on your writing today!
Our pre-writing objective is to get the story out in a coherent form that can then be used as an essential guide to writing the actual novel, script, etc. Knowing the beginning, middle, end, and the main plot points or story beats along the way can save you a lot of time and headaches once you sit down to begin your initial draft.
A basic outline or beat sheet (used for TV and film) can help you flesh out your story’s overall arc from start to finish with a few sentences per the significant plot points throughout the story. This gives you a bird’s-eye view of where things will go and how the story will progress. You must know where the story will go. If you are unsure, the reader will definitely not know, either.
It’s important to note that it is much easier to change an outline or beat sheet than to change sections of an entire manuscript (I know this from experience). Changing the story arc in this format will enable you to explore where the story could lead without the hassle of thousands of words being affected by your choices.
A more detailed version of the outline and beat sheet is the treatment (mainly used for screenplays). This is a detailed scene-by-scene breakdown of the story. Again, like the other two, it’s much easier to cut or re-write sections of a treatment than it is to do significant changes to the screenplay draft.
Take your time to craft the story here and reap the benefits later on once the drafting begins.
You can use one or all of these methods as you work through the early stages of creative development in your writing project. The key is to have it down and ready to access so when you do start to write, you know where you’re going.
Taking this time now will definitely save you a big headache in the future. And will keep your files and drawers free of unfinished projects!
Have any pre-writing tips to share? Leave a comment and let others know!