Prewriting is a crucial step in the writing process, but it takes a different shape to different writers. Depending on what kind of writer you are, you may spend a lot of time prewriting, or very little. Some writers do all of their prewriting in their heads, while others have notebooks, whiteboards, outlines, binders, and storyboards full of notes, ideas, plot lines, and world building.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. How you prewrite is completely up to you, but if you find yourself stuck, or struggling to work out ideas, it helps to have an understanding of prewriting. Obviously, prewriting will look different depending on whether or not you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, but the basic ideas still apply.
For today’s workshop, I want to take a look at some of the different elements of prewriting and how you can use them to help you plan your next project.
Keeping a journal, (in my case a blog) is a great way of getting your ideas down, and just opening up the creative part of the brain. If you have an idea, write it down. Keep writing if more comes to you, or move on to writing something else. Practice forming your thoughts into something coherent, and don’t worry about whether or not it will actually result in a story. Just write.
This is especially handy for nonfiction writers, but even some fiction writers and novelists use outlines to prewrite their stories. (R. L. Stine is reportedly a CRAZY outliner, writing even the dialogue in his outlines.) The point of the outline is to organize your ideas. Your writing should flow neatly from one idea to the next, and outlining can keep you from wandering off into rambling land.
If an outline isn’t you thing, one idea is to create a general story board. (With or without a plot diagram.) You can map out your big important plot points and character development in order–either on a wall with sticky notes or a whiteboard or whatever–and then fill in with subplots and details as you gather the big picture.
Another big one for nonfiction, you have to take notes. As you gather information and research (see below) you need to keep track of what you discover. You can even keep notes on any world building that you need to do. Unless you’re like Stephen King who does all prewriting in his head. It would be helpful to keep track of all your ideas and information so you don’t forget it.
Research is required for almost all nonfiction writing (with the exception of memoir, and even then you may have things you want to look up), and research is very common in fiction writing as well. Spend time reading books on your subject or idea. Find comparable titles to the story you want to write–if you’re writing fantasy, read fantasy!–watch movies, documentaries, talk to experts and keep track of everything you learned!
One prewriting idea is to interview your characters. This helps you develop characters into fascinating, REAL people. I would argue that your character’s inner development and personality is going to be MORE important than their physical appearance, so take some time and get to know your characters.
I’m not talking about story mapping, (see story board above), I’m talking about creating a map of your setting. Whatever your setting is, whether its a sci-fi world or present day New York, know where your characters are in time and space. The maps don’t have to be fancy, but sketching out a rough idea of the space station or English country manor where your characters live helps you keep things clear for your reader.
Remember, how you prewrite is completely up to you, but if you find yourself stuck or not know where to begin, chose on of these methods, and start brainstorming or jotting ideas down. You never know what ideas might spark or plots might develope!