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The Steps I Take Before I Start Writing a Novel by Chris von Halle
All writers have different steps for this, and, like everyone else, so do I. Over the years I've learned there's no right or wrong way to approach the act of writing. Actually, that's not true. All the ways other than the way I do it are wrong. Just kidding. But recently I've gotten to thinking about all the steps I personally take before I actually start writing a story. Why? I think it's because I've been at this game for quite a few years now, and it's interesting to see how I’ve evolved. Plus, it can be good for a writer to take a step back and analyze their writing process, not just to see "how far they've come," but also to see if there are any ways they can improve on it. Sometimes you'll be surprised by what you find.
I learned pretty quickly (okay, a lot more slowly than I wish I had) that being an extreme pantser means TOOOOOONS of revising. Because you just throw anything that comes to mind on the page, that means that ultimately there's going to be a lot of removing stuff that doesn't belong in the story, as well as a lot of adding elements that do belong. And after having to chop out entire sections of my novels, sometimes even as much as half of one, and then rewriting the whole *curse word* thing, I realized it was much better (at least for me personally) to brainstorm a lot more before I jump in and start the actual act of writing.
In the past, conceiving an awesome premise would be the catalyst for me to start writing the story. Immediately. And, obviously, a great premise is what a great story needs. But nowadays, once I have that premise idea, instead of jumping to the nearest computer to start writing (my mom, typically found in her home office at her computer desk, is particularly thankful I no longer do this; just kidding), I take a step back and brainstorm, like I said before. Often for weeks or even months.
Since I'm a science fiction and fantasy author, my premises usually involve a really cool or unique world or setting, so I start off by heavily brainstorming that setting: how it works, who is in charge of it, what jobs people have in it, what types of clothing people wear in it, etc. I have a document that has a bunch of world building questions and I try to answer as many of them as I can.
Usually when I'm in the throes of answering those questions, the idea for a protagonist to occupy that world pops (or sometimes more slowly forms) into my head. This is always a direct result of my brainstorming--it suddenly becomes apparent what person or type of person would have the most difficult experience or, to a degree, suffer the most in this world (sadly, stories are all about suffering; depressing when you think about it that way, huh? Either that or extremely cathartic hehehe).
That's when I'll pop over to my character sketch sheet, in which I have a bunch of questions to ask myself about the main character, and I then get to work on really hammering out who this person is. Before I know it, the combination of the world and character lead to plot ideas and the birth of other characters. So then I give the other characters their own character sketch sheets and start to work on the plot.
Whoa whoa whoa whoa, Chris!!! I thought you said you were a PANTSER at heart. This sounds like an awful LOT of prep work for a self-proclaimed pantser. And you're right. There's definitely a fair amount of work going on here. But this is about where I stop with the prep work. Well, I first conceive a very bare-bones plot. As in, I only know the inciting event and a couple potential (note: potential) major plot points throughout the story. But that's it. And none of them, of course, are written in stone. (To be fair, nothing is ever written in stone in writing, anyway).
But what's nice about all this prep work I've done for my story is that I now have a very strong sense of the major aspects of the book--the characters, the world, and the premise/plot. This way, even though I don't know all the specifics of what's going to happen in the story, I still have a nice roadmap to lead me along with the freedom to "pants" the details or other aspects of it as I go. This satisfies my pantsing nature while making sure I don't, later, have to do an insane amount of overhauling/revising. (Note that I say "an insane amount," because, let's face it, a very-close-to-insane-amount of revising is necessary in writing novels no matter what; um, it's kind of like a major part of it.) This makes the pantser in me a very happy pantser, indeed. And part of that happiness is attributed to the fact that sometimes I look back at my process and think, "Hmmm…how can I make this whole writing a novel thing more productive and less aggravating for me personally?"
And there you have it. That's how I do it. How about you? What's your current approach to writing, and has it changed at all since you first set out to write? Remember that there are no wrong answers to those questions other than the ones I just thoroughly detailed above. Just kidding.
About the Author
You can find Chris's book, The Fourth Generation, on Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo.
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