The Writing Process: The Pre-Write

As per usual, you can give or take the subject matter of this article. I am definitely not an expert on this subject, but the concepts I found while researching this article have made me rethink the way I tackle  a story.

Everyone should remember from school the basics of the writing process: Pre-write-Write-Revise-Edit-Publish. Generally, in school, you kind of made the revise and edit into one stage, and the pre-write was pushed but never enforced. For the sake of this article, we’re discussing this pre-write stage, because we are all learning to become better writers, and we may as well start on the first step. In a few weeks I’ll look at the next three stages, and the final stage won’t be until I feel we have tackled all of these stages in more detail.

For two weeks, though, it will be about the actual writing of the story, so it’ll be focused on Common Mistakes and Show vs Tell storytelling. I’m really excited about all of these articles, because I have already started my research on them all, and there is some amazing information in all of it.

Nevertheless, on to the Pre-Write:

The Pre-Write is also called the Brainstorming Phase of the process. There are many methods in which you can brainstorm your story and each of them have the place with different kinds of individuals. Pick one or two or all of them and just see how far it takes you. The first one is the method I used for many years, and to a degree, still do from time to time. And that is…

Freewriting

This can be done a number of ways. One thing that I generally do here is have a concept of what the story will be about by the end and then I just go for it. Generally the story evolves into something completely different, as my focus shifts to different theories and strategies until the final product is only a remnant of the original idea.

Freewriting can be quite liberating, as your natural creativity just takes over. However, it is also not the greatest for novels. This is fantastic for short fiction, because if you change an element, you only have a fine amount of work to go back during the revision and polish out. I did this with my first novel, though, and what it meant was rewriting entire chapters because the cohesion was gone since I changed something quite dramatically. If revising is your thing and you love it more than the writing, then go for it.

But for unrestrained brainstorm, this is definitely one method to go for. Only problem is, you’re not really brainstorming anymore. You’re writing without a pre-write. The other end of it is…

Listing

For something a little more restrained, the option is listing things you want in your story. This can be a list of the characters, settings, and even a course of events. This isn’t meant to be an outline just yet, as this can actually restrict your brainstorming, but it’s great if you want to start a profile of all of your characters and where they are going or have been. I’ve done this from time-to-time, since this is something you would see in the gaming world quite a lot, and I have found it to be really liberating, as it can be a bit like a freewrite without actually writing towards the story yet.

Researching

So you suddenly decide that you want your story to be a historical fiction where a man from the future travels back in time to rural Scotland and falls madly in love with a woman… Wait, that’s the plot of Outlander. Scratch that. But don’t just yet. Imagine the amount of research that comes with that sort of subject matter. The first stage of brainstorming this idea is to learn about this time or place you want to write about. As you read more about this location or time period, ideas form about what you think you can have your characters do or say, and then you list those ideas.

This form of brainstorming is a lot of fun, but it can be a time sink, because whether you’re looking it from Wikipedia (not a very accurate source) or simply doing refined searches in Google (c), you’ll get hooked. I’ve been known to start reading one thing at 7pm and realising at 2am that I’m still awake and still reading. Sometimes I’ve gone from reading about feudal lords to baseball. Don’t ask how… It’s the joys of the internet.

Clustering

This can also be called mapping or webbing, and it is perhaps the one drilled into me the most in school. So it is the one I avoid, because it feels too restrictive to me. Basically, clustering is a map of a list. You draw a circle and then draw circles around that with themes and characters and settings and then more circles explaining more depth. The circles can be colour-coded to help you see better. Then when you are satisfied you’ve written everything down, tie them together to the responding circles.

It’s a fairly simple thing to do, but like I pointed out before, it seems quite restrictive unless you have a canvas as big as a table. There are programs available like Mind Map that help you do it on the computer, but for these kinds of exercises, it seems more fluid if drawn with pen and paper first. Nevertheless, this is certainly something that others find helpful so you may as well.

Cubing

This is an interesting concept. In this particular strategy you take a topic or idea and look at it from six different directions. Apparently this is designed more for non-fiction writing, rather than fiction, as it helps you create pros and cons, and helps you analyse the subject matter from all angles. But I could see how this can work for fiction as well. Such as, you have Character A decide they are going to do this one thing, but it completely contradicts what Character B wants. Look at it from both character’s perspectives, and build upon that from the 6 angles. This may not be the intended way of using this particular method, but it sounds like it could be some serious fun, as well.

Hopefully these all help you with your pre-write. There is a heap of information around about brainstorming on the internet, and a lot of the articles are written much better than this one! I’ve had a very busy week and haven’t been able to write much at all, so that’s all for this week. Next week starting towards actual writing with common mistakes to avoid. 🙂

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