First, a very important disclaimer. This answer is going to be vastly different from writer to writer, and sometimes project to project. The steps in this series are not meant to be followed exactly and precisely each and every time a writer takes on a project. I’m describing the steps and the process I loosely follow when starting a writing project. Each part and piece is a distilled version from advice, workshops, conferences, worksheets, teacher training, student experience, and other things I know I’m surely forgetting that have all settled into this version of what my writing process, generally speaking, is today.
I’ve talked the last few posts about my writing process, about how I’m working on revamping it and using it to start on a large revision of MS:SB. What I realized though is that it’s been a long while since I’ve outlined my writing process. I always follow some form of process when beginning a writing project because I find it helps me create focus from creative chaos and more often than not helps me find the place I need to start and reminds me along the way of the place I’m hoping to finish. So, step one in this process is setting the story idea foundation.
When I have an idea for a story that simply will not let me go, that winds up curling into my dreams and popping up in my mind as I go about my day to day, I know it is a story I need to write. The last story idea that came to me, MS:L, was born from a writing exercise I did during a writing retreat this winter. I found my characters in that writing exercise and knew the story was going to be a story about magic. I’ve always wanted to write a story about magic, but hadn’t found or stumbled upon the characters that would live in that world. When I wrote about them and knew they’d live there, I knew it was time to set the story foundation. For me, this first step happens by sketching out the three act structure of the story. This gives me a mega-zoomed out view of the story in its complete state. The first act of the story is where we meet the characters, are introduced to the world, figure out what the problem the main character is facing, and ends with the call to action, the moment that character’s world is changed. The second act of the story where the bulk of the story happens is where we see the main character work toward their main goal, try and fail and try again to make progress toward the goal, see the villain rise to power and battle the main character, and where we leave the main character at their lowest point, the darkest night of the soul. The third act is where we see the main character engage in the final battle with the villain, come out victorious, and bring the story to its end. That is a very, VERY simple and truncated explanation of what the three act structure of the story is.
Once I’ve written about a paragraph describing each act, I make notes about the characters and the world of the story. For each character I write down their full name (if I know it), their most prominent character traits, who they will be majorly influenced by or who they will influence, whatever major moments that will happen to them, and anything else that I want to be able to reference quickly. This serves as the basic first step to how I begin a writing project.
What are some of the first steps you take toward beginning a writing project? Is it the same every time or does it vary depending on the project? In case you haven’t been told today, you are more than enough.