Prewriting: The Steps

***This post is one of several in our prewriting series. To read the first post, click here.***

Welcome back! This is the second post in the prewriting series by Aaron Pogue. In this series, we hope to  empower you to succeed at JuNoWriMo. It’s great if you’ve never participated in a month long challenge, but even if you’re a pro, I encourage you to try it. Having a prewriting plan has immensely helped me with my own novels and Aaron has a great strategy.



Aaron Pogue

Tuesday I talked about the benefits of prewriting when it comes to your JuNoWriMo novel, and I listed some of the assignments I like to go through (and give out).

In the next two weeks I’ll go into pretty close detail on the most important ones.

Return of the Marble Statue Metaphor

This whole curriculum is intended to help a serious writer create a useful JuNoWriMo novel. That doesn’t mean it will be elegant and beautiful. It’ll be a big ugly chunk of rock, no matter how you cut it. As I’ve said before, the fine art of making a good novel doesn’t start until the draft is done.

Writing your first draft with a plan, though — approaching it with an understanding of the craft of storytelling and some idea where and how the novel’s structure will develop — that significantly increases your chances of producing a usable chunk of rock. It will have the right color and size for the project you’re trying to make, and it’s less likely to hide the sort of gaping flaws that will reduce the whole thing to a pile of rubble once you start looking closely.

So what does it take to quarry a clean piece of stone like that? Here are my favorite tools:

Step #1: Mock Table of Contents

Your mock Table of Contents is 1-2 pages, using the standard Table of Contents format. It should outline a rough draft of your story’s narrative (an overview of the plot) using only chapter titles.

Aim for 15 chapters, and limit yourself to no more than 20 words per chapter title.

Step #2: Five Character Descriptions

A strong cast of interesting characters can easily drive a plot forward, and the better you know the characters, the more interesting they can be. Once you have a rough overview of the plot, make some rich personalities to place in it.

This step requires you to write 900 words — about three pages — describing five characters from your story. Create 300 word descriptions for each of two main characters, and 100 words each for three supporting characters.

Step #3:The Conflict Resolution Cycle Worksheet

The Conflict Resolution Cycle describes the process of building and resolving conflict in your story (using scenes), which creates the narrative tension that pulls a reader through from the start to the end. If you already know what all of that means, you could probably fill out your worksheet in your sleep.

If you don’t, you’ll really enjoy the part of this blog series dedicated to that. I’ll explain the Conflict Resolution Cycle and provide the Conflict Resolution Cycle Worksheet.

Step #4: Short Synopsis

In 300 words, describe the overall story you want to tell about your characters.

The goal of this one isn’t to make something perfect, though. It’s just to help you find a way to verbalize (and contain) the story you actually want to tell.

Step #5: Write a Scene

Write 5-10 pages, in narrative format, showing a scene that is related to your story. That forces you to start thinking in terms of scene…and it also forces you to make yourself sit down and start writing story. Trust me, JuNoWriMo is a whole lot easier to handle if you’ve got some practice before the month begins.

Step #6: Long Synopsis

We’ll finish the month out with one of the handiest steps of them all — and also the most tedious. Following a blog series on the different types and purposes of story synopsis, you’ll write 5-10 pages in the scene list or “long synopsis” format.

This synopsis should describe the whole plot arc for your story, including all major plot events, and summarize the complete conflict resolution cycle. As June creeps into its second and third weeks, you’ll be awfully glad to have some of those things already nailed down.


Check back next week for Aaron’s next post on how to get ready for JuNoWriMo!

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