A lot of people have ideas for novels. A lot of them are good, creative, or have something poignant to say. But actually putting those ideas on the page is an entirely different animal from just coming up with premises. There are a whole host of things to consider before creating your new story on the pages of a novel.
Over the course of my time as a writer, I’ve written two—soon to be three—novels. Each featured an entirely distinct method of pre-writing and outlining. My first book, written back in high school, was entirely done in my head. I had plot points and worldbuilding done mentally, with only a couple of drawn maps and about two pages of notes, total. Needless to say, the book wasn’t very good. It was a mess. It was a nightmare to keep organized, and most times I sat down to write, I found myself needing to reread chunks of the book to make sure I was writing what I needed to.
For my second book, my approach went totally in the other direction. I overreacted to the paucity of structure, and I ended up writing a 158-page outline. Talk about overkill. It was detailed to the point of including the dialogue of entire conversations. By the time I got around to actually writing the first draft, I was burned out, sick of the story and the characters, and there was no new spark that came from filling in the details and seeing my characters come to life. It ended up being a boring story overall.
And so I came to All Flames Cast…and I think I’ve finally found a better balance. A lot of the worldbuilding was done in an independent study my final semester of college. I have pages of notes and character sketches and maps. I came up with a more efficient way to outline—what I call my Checkpoint System—that keeps things easy to find and easy to build off of, and the result has been a much smoother writing process.
The point of all this is that pre-writing is very important, especially for those writing speculative fiction. Establishing a world isn’t easy. It takes a lot of details, a lot of fiddling and tweaking. But no matter what, it has to be done. Jumping into a manuscript with no preparation is usually a recipe for disaster, and it often results in extended periods of writer’s block. It’s essential to understand your own tendencies in writing and structure things to support them. If your prose tends heavily to narration and description, be sure you know what your settings will look like before you sit down to write; if you love letting your characters write their own stories, be certain to have a thorough understanding of them through notes.
It isn’t the most glamorous part of the writing process, but those steps before the first draft are the foundation, and are the key to finding the new world you want to write.