Finding Ideas during Pre-Writing

Most of my posts try to focus on the parts of the craft or business that are equally applicable for everyone. It doesn’t matter whether or not someone agrees with my bias because I try my best to present the reasonable supporting details and if they don’t convince someone then at least they experienced and opposing that isn’t a straw man. This post is going to be different.

This post has no right or wrong way to do it. This post really is just about me. If something sounds interesting to you, feel free to try it, but by no means is this intended as THE way to go about pre-writing. This is simply my process.

It should be noted that though this is how I am currently planning my next manuscript, I have tried quite a few methods ranging from just putting my fingers to the keyboard to writing a 30,000 word reference document before I even started the rough draft. More than likely, there will be bits of my prewriting that will change, so I’d love to hear about your guys’s process in the comments.

Finding Ideas during Pre-Writing

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I believe that all good stories stem from a compelling conflict. If you haven’t read my post, “Conflict is More Important than Character,” I’d suggest you check it out in order to understand my reasoning. That said, a conflict alone isn’t enough for a story. Let’s say I wanted to write a story about a fiddler who’s hands have been crippled. This isn’t a story, its a seed.

A story has motion. A story grows, and often a seed is where it starts. While many of the best tales have multiple woven threads, there has to be a primary direction either up or down, positive or negative. This direction is commonly referred to as the plot. At this point in my prewriting, I try to figure out how the story will end. Without a solid ending, I will not begin writing the rough draft. I have started far too many works that have lost steam around 35,000 words simply because I had no idea where they were going.

My Plots Begin at the End

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I plan my ending by looking at the central conflict and then finding the two most extreme end results. For the above example, a positive ending would be for my musician to fix their hands. The negative would somehow make their condition worse, perhaps making themselves go deaf, though I’d need to think on it more to find something suitable and satisfying. This doesn’t mean I’m done with my ending. Just like the initial story seed this is the seed to my climatic scene. I want it to be emotional and linger in the readers mind. If the scene seems bland then the ending will not work.

I take each possible ending and try to think of a strong visual element that can represent it. Essentially, this snapshot is what I intended to stick as the most tense point in the whole story. In regards to the positive outcome, the scene might involve some magic healing the protagonist and allowing them to play their fiddle in a last act of desperation to save their friends. In the negative, it might involve the protagonist sacrificing their hearing in order to get the energy to complete some other kind of magic.

You have to understand, I am a huge Joseph Campbell fan (I wrote my Bachelor’s thesis on his work), I believe good story moments hinge on thresholds (If you haven’t checked out his thoughts on the Hero’s Journey, I’d highly suggest it.) My power scenes need to have some kind of choice which will fundamentally alter the character forever. Once I have my ending set, I will look back and set three milestones between the beginning and end state. Each will push the character closer to their final decision. In Dan Well’s 7 Point Plot structure these form the turns and the midpoint.

Finding Magic in Magic

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The last bit that I try to nail before I start writing my narrative is the magic system. Since I write in fantasy, pretty much all of my story’s have magic. Initially, I build my magic systems with a result and a conflict. The result can be something as simple as leviation or as complex as turning a human into a god. The conflict is achieved through the price that the characters must pay or the limitations on the result.

In one of my WIP’s the result of the magic system allows the users to transpose energy into different forms. It’s like shifting music into different keys but more of kinetic energy into electricity, magnetism into motion and gravity, etc. The conflict stems from the slippage of leftover energy during the conversion. It builds in the user raising their body temperature which sets a limit on what they can do and can present a lethal consequence if they exceed it.

I try to figure these out before I start so I can avoid deus ex machina. Essentially, the magic becomes a tool that can be employed in a specific way with specific consequences. In my mind, magic like this is no different than a rifle or medicine. It depends on the type of story on whether I will explain in detail or if I will make it more soft as Brandon Sanderson describes in his 3 Laws of Magic Systems.

I don’t really figure out much with characters before I write. I find that characters really start to come alive during my revision process. My rough drafts are intended to get the details of the story done as quickly as possible. I don’t want to get hung up on making everything perfect, or planning so much that I’m too exhausted to start writing. I hope you enjoyed the read. If you did, don’t forget to follow or sign up for my newsletter. I hope you are having an awesome day, and good luck with your writing!

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One thought on “Finding Ideas during Pre-Writing

  1. Pre-writing for me starts with the sudden blast of an idea, then the end of that idea. The setting, the people, their system of government etc. All that is refined when I write outlines of that world. I get very excited about world creating and the characters when they come through are constant voices in my head. Thanks Steven for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

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