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Wednesday
May022012

Before Fingers Touch Keyboard: My 6 Pre-Writing Steps

Photo by -stamina- (click photo for link)Right now I'm writing a brand new novella, and as soon as I finish that, I'll be jumping right into book 4, CAUGHT UP IN YOU (which, for those of you reading the series, will be Kelsey's book.) This means I've been in the phase of story planning. 

Now I'm a pantser, so even that word "planning" kind of makes my writing muscles quiver. But I've learned over the course of writing...six books--whoa, when did that happen--that jumping in like a blindfolded monkey isn't the way to go. At least for me.

With each completed novel, I've learned a lot and am constantly honing and refining my process. It's not perfect. I still hit a big, fat wall of writer's block with my last book and ended up being over deadline. But that was less about my writing process and more about me going through  The 5 Emotional Stages of a Book Launch  for the first time and not knowing any better.

But I figured I'd share with y'all what I do as of right now when that seed of an idea blooms in my head and I decide if it's going to be a story.

 

My 6 Pre-Writing Steps


1. I spend days of "thinking" time. Running the story in my head, getting a feel for who the characters will be, how it will connect with my series, etc.

These usually feel like unproductive days because I'm just sitting and staring, discarding ideas left and right, shifting things around in my brain. But this step is, of course, crucial. It's story birth--messy and primal.

 

2. I find my hook.

What is going to be the hook of this story? What's that quick logline? If I can't find one, then maybe this isn't a story idea to pursue. There has to be something that makes someone go--oh, I want to read that. For instance, my novella coming out next month, STILL INTO YOU, my hook was "A husband who loves his wife but knows his marriage has lost its fire hears his wife call into a relationship radio show and admit she almost cheated on him. Knowing that they may be on the verge of divorce, he comes up with a dramatic plan and brings her to The Ranch where any fantasy can be had. Three days. No rings." See, it's a little long and clunky. If I had to pitch it to an agent, I'd have to refine it but the hook is there.

 

3. Fill out the Beat Sheet from Blake Snyder's Save the Cat.

As I've mentioned before , Save The Cat! totally converted me from my full pantsing ways. I don't think I'll ever be an outliner or someone who writes thirty pages of synopsis. But this simple one sheet way of plotting using screenwriting techniques speaks to me. I can roughly plan the story on one piece of paper and it doesn't take much time at all. You can see the Beat Sheet on Blake's site but you'll need to read the book to understand what those beats mean.

 

4. I flesh out my characters using a technique I learned in a Michael Hauge workshop (another screenwriter).

This is another one page deal. Each main character gets one sheet--so usually hero, heroine, and antagonist. And then I write out the following things--Need/Longing, Wound, Belief, Fear, Identity (their face to the world), Essence (who they really are). This gives me the main building blocks and makes me think more deeply about who this character is and what their arc will look like. What their hair color is or what kind of movies they like isn't all that important until you know these underlying things first. Everything will grow out of these roots.

 

5. I write out a brief one page synopsis for my editor.

I used to freak out at the thought of writing a synopsis after I finished a book. And I would've had a panic attack if you'd told me I'd have to write one BEFORE I wrote the book. But now it's part of the deal. Your editor wants to see your idea before they pay you to write it. And let me tell you, writing it beforehand is SO much easier, especially once you get the hang of the Beat Sheet or 3-act structure. I now can whip out a synopsis in an hour or two because the pre-work is there. (That's not to say things in the synopsis won't change once I'm writing the story, but if you keep the story strokes general enough, it usually still fits within the original idea.)

 

6. I come up with a hooky opening scene and spend some time visualizing it.

Usually the opening scene or ideas for it come to me early on in step one of this process. Often, my story ideas are born from first getting an idea for an opening. And almost always, that first chapter is one of the few that never change, even in revisions. There may be a tweaked sentence here or there, but I've never changed major content or cut my original first chapter in any book so far. That's my mental anchor for the whole story.

Then after all those things are done, I start writing. The stuff in between the story beats, I pants my way through and inevitably discover new directions. And things shift along the way--a change in character motivation means I rework the character worksheet, a change in plot means I tweak the beat sheet. It's all very organic.

So that's my whackadoodle process, what's yours like? Do we share any steps? Are there things I do that would totally freak your writer brain out?

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