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The Basics: Prep Work

October 7, 2008

Ask around and it might seem like no one likes Prep Work—the sometimes invisible step between the idea and the rough draft.

And is it any wonder writers dread it so? In school this is where teachers dragged out a boring five-paragraph essay by adding in tedious research, and mind-numbing outlines, before letting you just hammer out the rough draft like you wanted to do in the first place. Out of high school, and even the first two years of college, I hated prep work. But in the last two years of college two professors taught me to love prep work.

Though they came at writing from different angles—one taught creative writing, the other essay writing—they both saw the prep stage as an opportunity for experimenting. I was encouraged to try wild ideas—after all if you discard a draft after two pages, there’s little emotional investment. The creative writing professor had us try multiple points of view, even if we thought we know which direction we wanted to go. For essays we tried outrageous theses, and were told to argue points we didn’t believe, or even mildly agree with.

With NaNo coming up, this step is critically important. In each of the last two years I have benefited from good prep. From outlines, to character sketches, and important scenes written in the voices of several characters and narrators. Good prep will prevent you from getting sidetracked into emergency reworks of your story when characters don’t behave the way you expect them to.

  1. October 7, 2008 4:56 am

    Yeah despite Baty’s kind of commendable bravery at the attempting to write 50k in a month with no outline, I’ve gotten stuck at 30k with no outline and this time around, with all my outlining, I’m sure to do better.

  2. October 7, 2008 8:17 am

    I sort of like it when characters go awry. In fact, I prefer it. They often take me places I never dreamed possible … it throws me for a loop and I’m forced to evaluate my initial ideas.

    I prefer to follow my characters and see where they take me. Sure, it’s more writing and more cutting/editing later, but I’d rather color outside the lines and call it “art” as opposed to staying in the lines and calling it boring and/or predictable.

    And I am a firm believer in championing an opposing view now and again – you’d be surprised how much empathy is in your writing after trying exercises like that, at least, in my experience.

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