Before we get going, I want to say different methods work for different authors. This course is meant as a basic, introductory course for beginners. My purpose here is to lay out the process in the simplest way possible from start to finish. If you find a particular method isn't working for you, modify it however you feel the need.
Not all stories will require every step, but even if you don't think you're going to need a skill such as world building, give the post a read anyway. There are a lot of little things writers from one genre can learn from writers of a different one that can still be helpful with some tweaking.
The first step in the writing process is brainstorming, so this is where we'll begin.
When I first started writing, I was one of those who did so "by the seat of my pants." I got an idea and just dove in with no clue where I was going. It can be a fun way to write, but it can also be frustrating. Our minds don't always work in a linear fashion, so "pantsing" tends to lead toward rough drafts in need of major surgery. I should know. Even twenty or thirty drafts in, Right of Succession was tied all in knots right up until the final rewrite. Bits of chapters were moved backwards and forwards, cut completely, or merged together. The notes were a confusing mess, and the rewrites themselves took almost two full years because of this.
Taking the time to brainstorm, world build, character build, research, and organize your story before you start drafting can save tons of headache and time in the long run.
So how do you get started?
Start small and build is how you'd start if you were taking up a new activity or hobby, but when it comes to planning out a story, I find the opposite to be most helpful. Think big to small.
If you're anything like my girls, your natural inclination will be to start with a title. I would recommend against this. Once you stick a label on something, there's a subconscious tendency to stretch or squash things to fit their label. It can stifle you, and in my experience, the best title ideas come somewhere in the last half of rewrites anyway. Even then, if you decide to submit your story to a traditional publisher, they may decide it needs a different title just before you go to print. So it can pay to avoid getting too attached to a title early on.
Grab a pencil and some scratch paper. A notebook, index cards, or new Word document will work too. However, brainstorming can be a messy process, so if you have a bunch of papers sitting around that are only half used, those are great for this first step. We'll clean it all up in the next lesson.
Give your muse free reign.
Release the muse! Write down anything and everything that comes to you, and leave a bit of space around everything. Even if you don't think there's any way you'll use a particular idea for this story, write it down. Our minds don't work in a straight line, and there's a lot going on in the background we don't always know about until that burst of inspiration hits. Go ahead and write down anything that comes to you. Chances are your subconscious mind is working away faster than your conscious mind can keep up, and you'll end up coming back to that idea, whether it's for this story or another one later on.
If you do find yourself going back to a thought you already wrote down with an addition or modification, use the space you left around that first note to add it in.
Don't limit yourself to one go around.
If you get tired, or the ideas stop coming, go ahead and take a break. Go do something completely different for a while. Take a nap. Maybe even call it a day and come back to it tomorrow.
Depending on the length and scope of your project, brainstorming can be short and sweet or a longer process. If you don't feel like you can generate enough ideas to get at least a rough picture of your story in one go, don't feel bad about giving yourself several days. Keep some of your scratch paper and a pencil handy, and just write down notes as the ideas come.
Muses are party animals who never seem to stay for clean up.
Once you feel your brainstorm has died down for good, it's time to start straightening out your notes. Grab a fresh notebook, some clean index cards, or open a new document. Start by listing a few categories. Examples might include: background information, world building, setting, protagonist (hero), antagonist (villain), plot points, and so on.
Go though your notes and write the ideas down under their correct headings. Tie together any that are connected. You may find doing this will shake loose a few more notions as they're triggered by the process. Write those down too.
If you have some leftover notes that don't seem to fit anywhere, make an "Undetermined" heading and put those under it. They may become relevant as we go forward, or you may end up forgetting about them for months or even years only to have them reemerge bigger and better than ever.
Once again, if you have any comments or questions, please click on the comment button above and join in the conversation. I'll try to respond in a prompt manner.
Please proceed to lesson two for an overview of world building.
A. B. England is a small business owner, mom of two, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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