May is halfway over—can you believe it? June will be here before you know it, so now’s the time to get ready. For the next two weeks we’ll have a series of posts to help guide you through the prewriting process. Prewriting is not required to participate in JuNoWriMo, but we highly recommend being as prepared as possible before taking the leap into June (and 50,000 words). If you follow our prewriting advice, it will help set you up to succeed from day one.
We’ve brought in a special guest just for this purpose. Aaron Pogue is the bestselling author of the fantasy novel Taming Fire. He has published six books and a handful of short stories. He’s the President of The Consortium, a non-profit organization that strives to support artists and make quality books more accessible to the public. He’s also won NaNoWriMo four years in a row, so he’s got some experience in knowing how to prepare for such a high-intensity writing adventure.
Now here’s Aaron.
There’s something incredible about holding a finished book in your hands, and the most remarkable thing about it is remembering a time when that book didn’t exist at all. When it was just a scene or two of draft, when it was barely an outline, when it was a “What if…” conversation carried out just to fill the long hours of a road trip.
Sometimes the steps in between feel tedious. Sometimes the reward seems too small for the unbelievable effort required to just keep putting words on the page. Every writer gets there from time to time — I certainly have — but the fear is unfounded. Finishing a book is always worth it.
And, in my experience anyway, finishing a book is done before the book is even started. It’s such a big task to get a book written, that most writers have to get a proper foundation in place before they get started, or they’re doomed from the beginning.
So what goes into that foundation? Over the last few years, I’ve developed a pretty solid curriculum of prewriting. It builds on itself, and guides a writer (me, more often than not) through all the critical questions that need to be asked before a story can be formed.
If you don’t do prewriting, you’ll end up facing those questions anyway. The difference is whether you find yourself unexpectedly stumped with the question, completely unable to proceed, while you’re in the middle of writing a scene and 1,000 words short of your target for the day…or if you face the question with all your attention during a dedicated bit of time several weeks before you even have a daily word count target.
Take my word for it: the latter way is easier.
So these are the critical pieces of my curriculum:
Maybe that sounds too simple and straightforward, but those are the pieces you need to have figured out before you start writing the book. Now, “figured out” in this context doesn’t mean “perfected,” or even “nailed down.” It just means you have some idea of the shape of them.
More importantly, you need to know how they’re going to work within your story. What will each of the pieces do, and when, and where? For that, I’ve got specific steps.
- A mock Table of Contents makes you think through a possible order and progression for your story.
- A handful of character descriptions makes you start thinking through the personalities involved, how they’ll interact, and how they’ll be affected by the story events.
- A Conflict Resolution Cycle worksheet gets you thinking in terms of actually creating story (instead of just imagining it), by forcing you to consider the building blocks of scenes.
- A short synopsis helps you focus your scenes and story into a single idea, to find the thrust of your plot, so you’ll be able to keep all your scenes pointing in the right direction.
- And, last but not least, a long synopsis (or scene list, or detailed outline) gives you an opportunity to build your whole story in stepping stones, figuring out where you narrative will go, and creating anchors for you to build chapters on once June starts.
Your Prewriting Steps
Honestly…it’s a lot of work. It really is. But it makes writing 50,000 words in 30 days a lot easier. Knowing where you’re headed makes it a lot easier to get there.
I’ll provide more detailed descriptions of my prewriting steps Thursday. In the meantime, start thinking about your story idea, because May is half over. You’ll be starting in just over two weeks.
Next month, you’re going to write a novel.
You can find Aaron at his author site or at his writing advice blog: Unstressed Syllables. Come back on Thursday for Aaron’s next post. He’ll cover the full list of prewriting steps so you can get off and running. In the meantime, if you’d like to be a featured author on our site, check out this post for more information.