Method of pre-writing?

Hello everyone. I'm in the very early brainstorming phase for a web serial, and I wanted to ask you guys about how you went from the conception of the story idea to when the first chapter was posted on your site. I'm sure there's a lot to cover with that topic, but to narrow it down a bit more, I want to know how you went about making the world, characters, plot structure, and that kind of thing. What's important here is not so much the actual content of your story; instead, think about the process that went into taking that story from just an idea to something that you could publish online.

I start with some pretty old-school basics:

1. A theme statement, no more than a couple of sentences, that spells out the overall theme I want to be able to distill my story into.

2. Then I write a very short plot summary, no more than a paragraph or two, which will lay out the major beats of the story in very simple, basic terms. This usually reads like a very boring and flat story synopsis: "The hero discovers the antagonist did something. The hero struggles against it. Eventually the hero conflicts with the antagonist here, then here, then here. Finally, the protagonist wins through doing this thing."

3. Now, I write the first plot outline. This is a longer document, often 1-8 pages. Here's an excerpt from the one I did up for From Winter's Ashes, to give you an idea:

32. Heather has an initial meet and talk with Major Weathers, talking about why a Detective is needed, and hinting and foreshadowing at the signs that parts of the Church knew, eventually, something was going to happen here.

33. Victor LaPaix and Daniel kill the General at the fortress, and begin their plot.

34. Heather and Persephone go on patrol around the town. Initial discussions about the major houses and their business interests, and the power structure of the town. They watch as the Fortress gradually goes into lockdown.

37. Training practice, sighting of two of the Crimson Cloaks leaving town with a native guide.

I edit this as I work constantly, and refer to it often as I'm writing my drafts. I reorder plot points as I go when the writing demands it. This keeps my story organized and (hopefully) disciplined.

4. Write first draft. If you're going to publish as you write, as others have said: Have a buffer. Have at least six weeks worth of buffer, whatever your schedule.

5. Edit, rewrite, edit again, rewrite, run it through the Hemingway editor, edit again. Read all your dialogue out loud.

6. Publish.

7. Inevitably discover the multiple typos that you and your writing partners and advance readers have all managed to miss, sigh, edit again. Drink.

@PR - Gawd, #7 is so fuckin' true...

With my current story I'm posting, all the world building was created from another novel I started. The character in the novel appear as secondaries. I just had to build them a little more.

1. I usually think of a character, then story. And I run this sort of thing through my head for two weeks. This keeps me from writing junk stories.

2. Planning. A Which is usually a statement of what I'm going to be doing. Since I do a lot of head planning, I don't outline, and I really hate going into a lot of detail about whatever story I'm working one. My characters develop the world and story. I actually do very little development outside of the story. I usually write enough down in a notebook so I know what I'm working with. At the most, I may have a timeline of event but for the most part, I'm a discovery writer. Most of my development happens in story. Most of the world building is in story.

3. Since I don't publish as I write. I usually just write the entire story out.

4. Revision, edit, and edit some more. For this particular story, I got it printed for editing purposes. Would love to be able to do that with the next project but I fear the cost.

5. Then I started start posting and edit some more with the occasional, "I need to revise this entire chapter because I just don't like it. Get ready for the struggle to do three round of edits in seven days."

That is the basic of the process. Though I will talk about plot structure because this story isn't typical. It was done purposely as there is no central conflict. Well, there is and it's kind of debatable as not everything that happens is tied to it and there isn't a antagonist in the center of this conflict. There are antagonist in this novel but the don't effect the whole of the novel. I wrote it this way as forcing something in there would've messed up my entire purpose of writing the story. Rarely do I write something with a point or theme. Normally I don't think about theme and even writing with one I don't try and force it. I just wanted to do something a bit different, otherwise, I just want to write my story.

My first serial? I came up with the character concepts in May & June, then posted the first part to begin July. So it was about 6 weeks featuring LOTS of drawing and character mapping, no setting per se (a generic bar), and minimal plot (getting to know said characters as personifications of math functions - puns galore). Buffer of a week or two, but the parts were short. After about 10 weeks, once I had a better sense of what I was doing, I created an actual plot (kidnapping) and second location (Conic house), making that a Second Arc.

I distinctly remember thinking, "If I don't just start tossing this out there, I'm going to get so bogged down that it never happens". The rest followed eventually.

"Epsilon Project" was VERY similar. On August 30th I decided I wanted to do something with a bunch of pre-created characters, so I brainstormed three random plots, and put everything up to a reader vote on August 31st. Seven days later, PART 1 went out - I'd vaguely designed a space station for a setting. Backstory was filled in 3 weeks later, and the plot started to congeal 3 weeks after that... but bear in mind every week was a reader vote, so I COULDN'T map most of that out in advance. Editing? Hahaha, what's that? (I do reread when I post, but have been an editor myself and rarely get typo comments. Or any comments, granted.)

I think part of "the process" as you put it goes to personality (my problem is always the start - once I've committed, I simply do whatever is needed to not miss an update) and part of it goes to writing style + story genre ("Time & Tied" has been 15 years of rewrites and plot adjustments because IMO time travel is hard to do right). Insert also the usual caveat here about the fact that I don't seem to be great at attracting regular readers, so maybe I'm doing things wrong.

I started this serial mainly to provide the impetus to write regularly so that I could get back in the habit. I'd floated the idea around my head for a little while that I wanted to write something full of fairytales - as if you could walk out the door, dodge a boggart, take the bridge over a carnivorous swamp, be polite to a fairy (always be polite to fairies, although never go dancing with them) and go to work on a vegetable lamb farm. So I did. No plan, no buffer, very little idea of what I was doing. I'm pretty happy so far.

It's the endless debate of planning vs doing, isn't it? Some people stick rigidly to a plan, others prefer to wing it a little or fall somewhere in between. Just takes a little trial and error to find what works best for you.

I like Patrick's idea of reading all dialogue aloud. I'll have to try that going forward.

I try to have a loose plan. The more I plan the more I find I get into trouble as the characters develop and their growth prevents me from following 'the plan'. The last couple of novels I got blocked on for a month or more at about two thirds of the way through the story and I only got unblocked when i realized I was trying to force the characters down a path that didn't make sense. Luckily my subconscious was on top of it and put the breaks on until my conscious mind caught up and figured out what was wrong.

For the line editing part, I've found having using a text to speech program really helps. When I read something I've written, I read what I think I wrote, while a Text to speech program only reads what I actually wrote. I spot and fix heaps of mistakes this way.

@Patrick, I haven't come across the Hemingway editor before, great tip. I'll be trying that out for sure.

In terms of story ideas, I constantly have new ones popping into my head. Sometimes, it'll be because of an interesting conversation, or a scene in a book/TV show that I have a different take on, or an observation about science that I think would make a great basis for a magic system, or sometimes an idea that pops out of nowhere I can trace.

All these fragments go into the part of my subconscious that's responsible for daydreaming and plotting my stories. They mix, stick together, react, and change, occasionally cohering enough that I feel like the story is ready to be born.

Generally, the minimum I consider enough to start writing is 1) enough of the setting/magic system that I can write a synopsis about it; 2) the cast of main characters, including their personalities, abilities, and goals; and 3) the main conflict of the story and its resolution. For me, it's usually the third part that's slow in coming. I seem to enjoy imagining wonderfully-designed worlds full of kind-hearted, self-actualized people where nobody ever gets into conflict.

With that, I usually have a very vivid idea of the first scene I want to start with, and I start writing. After that, it's an adventure for me to figure out what's happening next. I have a vague idea because I know the main conflict and resolution I'm building to, but the small scenes in between are all made up as I go.

I always write on paper first, then type it up. Having to physically write out the story the second time makes for really wonderful editing. Sometimes it's much easier to get the wording just right by having blank space in front of you rather than a pre-formed sentence you feel like you should tweak instead of deleting and starting fresh. It has been suggested to me that I type up the first draft, then type the second into a new document, and I suppose this would work, though I've never tried it.

After that, a read through for typos, and up it goes for the netizens to comment on.

I also periodically re-read what I've written in order to make sure continuity hasn't been broken and to give me inspiration for what happens next. Often, I'll end up doing minor tweaks to wording during this process. This occurs in my master document and I rarely bother to go to the multiple sites that host my fiction to make the same changes, unless it's a really grievous typo.

So yeah, that's my process. Most of my planning takes place in my subconscious. I'll write a chapter, then wait for my brain to figure out what happens next, then write the next chapter. I also occasionally get ideas for future scenes that become smaller anchors for where the plot is going.

I'm a very character driven writer, so I almost always come up with characters first. I actually have a lot of trouble coming up with a plot to fit those characters, which is why they're usually very loose. I spend a lot of my time developing the plot, often jotting down the worst possible things that could happen to the characters, what would force them to grow and change, what they care about, etc. This usually leads to a basic premise, which can then be further developed.

I generally avoid extensive outlining, since following a strict plan often takes the excitement out of the story for me. Instead, I write really detailed characters profiles, mainly involving their backstories and starting personalities. If I have a general idea about their development, I might jot down a few notes to remind me later. The same can be said for any future scene ideas I have, so that way, if I run into a road block, I can look at the list for ideas. Character profiles for me usually goes something like:

0. Basic information

1. Exterior personality

2. Backstory

3. Internal personality

4. Development ideas

5. Themes and symbols

6. All the ways they've failed life

7. Everything that makes them a terrible person

8. 1 ounce of redemption. Or none. Either is fine.

Yeah. In terms of planning, the plot gets literally one paragraph to explain the premise, the overarching theme, and an idea for the ending. Beyond that, I slide my gloves on and pray the plot bunnies don't build a road block in their vengeance (I'm sorry I ignored all of you).

That being said, this method definitely doesn't work for everyone, and seeing as I'm still a newbie myself, I'll have to wait and see how severe the inevitable writer's block is. Either way, despite my minimum planning, I always make sure to have a general ending in mind, otherwise the rest of the story won't meld properly.

I have a vague idea of where I want to go, but no real clue about the specifics until I start writing. I refer to it as the "Blank Page" style of pre-writing: consistently surprising myself with new twists, at about the same frequency that I frustrate or foil my original plan.