(writing/process) Thoughts as we head towards NaNo

So, I’m working on my outline for the third Advent story for NaNoWriMo, since that’s that project that’s next on my list (and the story needs to be written), and I’m thinking about my writing process.  And since we’re coming up to NaNo, I thought I would share my thoughts on process with you all.


I”m not a panster.  Not even remotely close.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I have pantsed several flash fiction pieces.  But anything more than 1000 words and I need an outline.  Yes, even for short stories.  (For those who are not familiar with the term, a “pantser” is someone who writes without an outline, or with a very minimal one.  They are also called “discovery writers.”)  I have found that unless it’s a very short flash/vignette, my stories tend to wander and peter out, or walk straight into a corner and sit.  I need a map, and I’m not ashamed of that.


I also need the right atmosphere when I write.  I prefer music, although I can write with the TV on, as long as it’s not something that I need to follow closely.  If I leave the TV on, it’s on baseball, or paranormal reality shows, or science shows.  If it’s music, I prefer Christmas carols, believe it or not, even for non-Advent stories.  I can’t explain why.  And there must be a candle lit.


My prewriting takes me about a month, all told, and it’s pretty extensive.  Because of the amount of prewriting I do, I’ve fallen in love with Scrivener, and its ability to organize a large amount of files.  I have character sketches, plot summaries, outlines and random worldbuilding notes that I consider prewriting.  This is generally how I approach a new story:

1. I start with a general plot summary.  This is almost freewriting – it’s anything and everything that pops into my head about the story.  I tend to start with a character and a situation, and worldbuild around that.  By the time I finish the plot summary, I’ve felt my way through the story and the plot.

2. Then I make a list of characters and, if it’s a complicated world, places too.

3. Next comes the actual story outline.  This is when I go “This happens, then this happens, then this happens.”  It’s the beginning of the details.

4. Now I do a detailed outline.  In the case of Advent, I take each day and write up what is going to happen on that day.  In the case of novellas and novels, I do a detailed chapter outline.

Depending on how well I’m feeling the characters, I’ll do character sheets in between the second and third step.  I’m starting to incorporate a style sheet at that point too, so I can keep track of everyone (I tend to have a “cast of characters” problem).


And that’s what I do.  By the time I’ve finished all this, I’ve got a good enough handle on the story that I can put my head down and plow through.  This doesn’t mean I don’t run into issues – my outlines all tend to change during the first draft, but that’s okay.  The stories tend to be stronger because of it.


What’s your process like?

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