7 Ways Authors Can Organize Their Pre-Writing

papercips-and-rubberbands-699246-mI’d bet all authors love that feeling of having a new, viable idea they can develop into a novel. I DEFINITELY do. It’s one of the most exciting experiences attached to the writing process, on a par with writing that final word of a first draft.

What writers do between having that brain wave (with the subsequent shouts of joy and air pumps of rejoicing) and actually starting to write depends on the author. We all write somewhat differently, with some us writing VERY differently than others.

As long as your process works for you, it’s a valid process and you shouldn’t feel the need to defend it to anyone or feel inferior to writers who do things the opposite way. I have always and will always say that.

Still, whether you want to do a lot of pre-writing or you are more of a “just write, write, write, and see what happens” kind of person, there are a myriad of options available to organize yourself. I wanted to break some of those options down. Here are 7 of them.

(NOTE: I’m not proposing that you use every method here unless you feel inclined to do that. I’m not proposing that you follow these methods in any kind of order. There is no real method to this madness…. Just a grouping of ideas to organize pre-writing.)


I really love King’s “On Writing,” and especially the part where he talks about starting a novel with a situation rather than a plot: a scenario that can be developed into plot. Such a situation takes the form of a “What if” question.

My novel “The Crimson League” can be summed up like this: What if a sorcerer nobleman executed a coup and took over a kingdom where most people don’t have, and even fear, magic?

A good “What if” will give you LOTS of options in terms of development. The possibilities might even feel endless. That’s a good thing. Such an open scenario will lead to developing your characters in order to prune things down, which will take you the rest of the way.


This technique pairs well with the first: making sure you have a “what if” scenario rich enough and complex enough to develop into a novel.

From that point, you can ask yourself: what excites you the most about your idea? Maybe a character you really love jumps to your mind. Maybe you love the propensity your idea has to develop or dissect a particular theme that matters to you. Maybe a particular scene or plot point really caught your interest.

Whatever the case may be, focusing on what interests you the most about your idea will do a number of things:

  • It will help ensure you are “writing for you,” which I constantly urge authors to do
  • It will keep you engaged and interested in your story when the writing gets tough, because you can remember what you really love about the novel
  • It can provide a jumping off point and a focus for your writing, which can be helpful


Once you have your “what if?” scenario, you can brainstorm different characters, different outcomes, and different plot progressions to give you ideas about where your story might possibly go. The whole point of your “what if,” after all, is to make sure your idea is “BIG enough,” so brainstorming can help you winnow things down or take stock of what your choices are.


This isn’t what it might sound like. This isn’t getting a jump on starting to write the novel. You’re not free-writing fiction here.

Rather, you can freewrite some plot progressions, starting with your “what if” idea. You don’t have to connect all the dots. You don’t have write grammatically or even in full sentences. Just see where a storyline takes you when you don’t get hung up on analyzing the little details. Those can come later. For instance:

What if the sorcerer-duke who took over the kingdom isn’t as secure as he thinks? Wouldn’t people he injured in his take-over fight back? What if there were some kind of organized resistance that sprung up in the kingdom? And what if that resistance had some powerful people–people with magic in it? That makes sense. If it’s going to be any real kind of threat or inconvenience to a dictator who has magic, the resistance will need magic too. Who would join such a fight? People loyal to the true royal family, I guess. And depending on how this sorcerer organizes his rule….

That is an example of a free write based on my scenario for “The Crimson League.” Such free-writing, like brainstorming, will help you create your characters, identify plot progressions, and give you some loose structure that you can tighten up later if you want in:


Come on, we all knew this was coming. The classic outline is a classic for a reason: it’s a great organization tool that many writers use. You didn’t need me to tell you that 🙂


Creative writing is art, so it makes sense it can lend itself well to companion graphic art. If you are a talent painter or graphic designer, you can create all kinds of supporting materials for yourself: character portraits, depictions of specific scenes you want to write, landscapes or pictures of important settings, maps, blueprints of buildings…

If you’re really talented, some of your drawings might end up in your finished, published work!


Lots of authors make character sheets. And these sheets can be as individual as you are. There’s no set structure to them. Include whatever information you want:

  • family history/lineage
  • personal history/childhood
  • romantic history
  • physical description
  • hobbies, interests, and passions
  • job information/history
  • fears, aspirations

These are only seven among an infinite possibility of pre-writing styles that can be combined, altered, and personalized to suit your needs and tastes. How do you like to pre-write?

Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”

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41 responses to “7 Ways Authors Can Organize Their Pre-Writing

  1. I too love Mr. King’s “On Writing”…to the point where I’m toeing into Annie Wilkes territory 🙂
    Another fantastic post, Victoria! Not only have you complimented my morning coffee, I dare say you have eclipsed it…sorcery

  2. Reblogged this on territorio toxico and commented:
    Un artículo más de Victoria que puede ayudar y creo que en mucho acerca de como afrontar esa idea que no acabamos de concretar y que podría llegar a ser una buena novel o un buen relato. Estamos deseando que Victoria se descuelgue con algún post en ese español que sabemos que también domina. Muy recomendable

  3. Big user of the character biographies and outlines. Brainstorming too, which I do during the morning exercising. It’s interesting that you mention pinpointing what excites you about the project. With fantasy, it can be nearly anything like a character, a what if, or even a magic item. It’s that spark that sends everything else rolling ahead. People seem to overlook this and assume the main story always came first.

  4. A big part for me is breaking down the plotline. For a short story that usually just means the one plot, working out the main turns and pinch points. For something longer it’s working out the main points of the separate plots, laying them down next to each other (Excel spreadsheet time) and working out what order they go in to make the most sense. Inevitably I’ll deviate from this and make additions as I go along, but it frees me up for the writing part by not having to think in structure and plot then.

  5. Pingback: 7 Ways Authors Can Organize Their Pre-Writing | Elaine Beare

  6. Usually I just dig in and start writing what ever part of the story comes to my pen. I plan as I go along. But I’ve learnt that, for me, it’s most important to get out of my own way and let it happen.

  7. I really enjoyed this post. I don’t think I observe all the 7 ways, but I’m certain of a few (character outline, brainstorming etc.) I love “On Writing” by Stefan King. It made me become the writer I am today.

    • I feel the same way about King!!! 🙂 And I think I’d be shocked if anyone used all seven of these methods. It’s possible, of course, but I don’t think most of us get that in depth. also, some are just skewed for different learning patterns and manners of thinking than others. I too am a fan of brainstorming, though. It’s really helpful!

  8. Brilliant tips, I am just at the stage of planning a new novella so this is really useful! 🙂

  9. I really liked the idea of figuring out what excites you the most about the idea. That’s always a good idea to capitalize off of, because then you’re at least going to remain motivated. Because new ideas are inexplicably tied to first drafts, and first drafts are a horrid form of torture I wouldn’t wish on anybody 🙂

  10. Thanks. Most the time I come up with an idea, I get very excited and then I get stuck. Mostly where I have written without planning anything in advance, but I find these techniques really help with developing ideas which you are stuck on (and are very good cures to ‘writers block’)

  11. PaperbackDiva

    I have to constantly remind myself to organize. It’s easy to get caught up in lots of pages and ideas and programs and websites.

  12. Cate Russell-Cole

    Reblogged this on "CommuniCATE" Resources for Writers and commented:
    I hadn’t thought of half of these, but I need them for planning The Chronicles of Mirchar. Victoria, thanks! This is great advice.

  13. Awesome post…Thank you for putting these together! Some I did instinctively without knowing what to call it and the others are genius!

  14. Thanks for the tips on organization. I am in the planning stages for a series and this has helped me know where to take my second story.
    Some of the tips I knew, but half I have not heard of. I have Stephen King’s On Writiing, but admit that I have not finished it as yet. You have convinced me that I need to do so.

    • It is an amazing read. It really did influence, in a crazy way, how I personally approach writing. I guess King’s approach and how my brain works just mesh. That might not be the case for everyone b/c everyone writes differently.

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  16. This is some great stuff. I tweeted it via my main account and scheduled some tweets via some of my other accounts.

    Also, I’d love to syndicate it on The Masquerade Crew. If interested, see the following link.


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