Why bother starting with pre-work when you want to write? Because writing on accident can only take you so far. A bit of planning will never hurt. Don’t worry. Plans are mutable, you can make any changes you feel like at any time. Nothing is set down to follow or die. You can make adjustments (and you will, most likely).
So here are the things to consider kicking around before you start a short story or novel:
- PRE-WORK/PLOT NOTES
- MID-POINT SCENES
- YOUR STORY SKELETON
- YOUR ENDING
- Example Toggle
Here’s one writer’s Start Up treatment for a short story, where nothing has been written yet.
She wanted a ‘guide’ to get her idea into a frame of a short story:
- In what manner should I tell this Story/scene?
- A close Third person Narration, almost like first. But with close third we can see more about the other characters.
- The Main character is the naive wanderer.
- She meets the disguised ‘serpent’ along the way.
- Make out a Time Line:
- Evening of day one through to early afternoon of the next day. The Present. This will happen quickly – like all disasters do.
- List ONE intangible thing about your Main Character that obliquely describes their personality.
- The first thing she says is repeated all through the story, this shows how she is trapped in her dull life.
- List ONE event that tripped this story idea in your mind.
- Fainting that one time and the trip to the Emergency room.
- The Skeleton of the Story:
- Open with the fainting event
- The big moment is at the very end, everything adds up to that moment.
- The ending will be open-ended and a shock.
- What does the Main character want?
- She wants to be seen, but everyone is over-looking her (boyfriend, hospital staff), except the wrong folks (the guy in handcuffs).
- This “But” is a person – the bad guy who comes across as a good guy.
- How do they do go about making their wish come true?
- She fails at making her wish come true.
- What thing, scene, event, makes them feel like they’ve succeeded in getting their wish?
- Don Does Magic tricks and buys her a meal at Cantor’s Deli.
- How will it all fall apart?
- What event happens? – The ending shows things coming clear to her in a flash.
- Who is found out? Don is seen for who he really is.
- What is finally understood? Don is not safe. She might be in trouble being with him.
- What gets broken or re-broken? She (might or might not) be the thing that is broken – it won’t be said outright – open ending.
- Now how does the main character’s predicament get worse?
- Before the ending realizations, her boyfriend won’t drive her to the emergency ward.
- And what event makes their circumstances even worse?
- She sits up after the spinal tap and this makes things worse for her physically.
- And then add the final heaping of insult onto injury.
- She follows this Don guy, because she is loopy from the pain and the pain pills she’s taken.
- What emotions or perceptions would illustrate the lesson your main character is getting/ignoring/embracing/running from?
- no answer for this one, yet.
- Ending Scene: What choices are made?
- Denial – happens all through the story
- Death – alluded to but not shown.
- Re-read: What piece of fiction made you think of this ending? Tweak your work now?
- Re-read it and others that end in similar ways, does this bring up a newer ending to you?
- I’ll keep the ending, but once I write this I might look for ways of changing this once it’s on paper.
- Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle
Lesson Exercise 1:
Pre-work/Plot Notes Template we used in the Example:
1. In what manner should I tell this Story/scene? (choose from one of the Narration options, or make up your own)
- Roles each Character will take?
- Who’s the Heroine/Hero? Who’s the Shadow/Other/Guide/Helper?
- And which will be the teller of the tale?
2. Make out a Time Line:
- The story will last from:
- Morning till night? Tuesday to Friday? 1977 to 1997?
3. List ONE intangible thing about your Main Character that obliquely describes their personality.
4. List ONE event that tripped this story idea in your mind.
- What is it about this event you want to get across to your readers?
5. The Skeleton of the Story:
- How will the story open?
- What will trip the Big Moment/Event?
- How do you see this ending?
6. What does the Main character want?
- What “But” keeps them from what they want?
- Is this “But” a person, or thing, or circumstance?
7. How do they do go about making their wish come true?
8. What thing, scene, event, makes them feel like they’ve succeeded in getting their wish?
9. How will it all fall apart?
- What event happens?
- Who is found out?
- What is finally understood?
- What gets broken or re-broken?
10. Now how does the main character’s predicament get worse?
11. And what event makes their circumstances even worse?
12. And then add the final heaping of insult onto injury.
13. What emotions or perceptions would illustrate the lesson your main character is getting/ignoring/embracing/running from?
14. Ending Scene: What choices are made?
15. Re-read: What piece of fiction made you think of this ending, re-read it and others that end in similar ways.
Now: Do you want to tweak your own ending? Did any new ideas/twists/outcomes spark from what you re-read? Can you take your piece farther than where you first envisioned it would end?
Type out these fifteen plot points and use this template for any new piece, or with pieces you feel blocked on. Use all or as few of the points as suit your needs.