Laying the Foundation of Your Story

In today’s blog post, we’re talking about your novel’s foundation. We’ll work through the entire outlining process from spark to creating your entire novel’s blueprint. 

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SUMMARY: The story writing process is about more than simple creativity. It’s about hard work, dedication, and intentional goals set up by an eager writer committed to finishing their book. In this article, we’ll go over the four key components to the pre-writing process: brainstorming, researching, and wire-framing, which combine to create your story’s blueprint. 

Planning Your Story Foundation

Every writer, whether plotter or pantser, go through some form of foundation planning. The main thing that varies is to what degree one plans. 

While I’m writing this as a step-by-step process, as part of the pre-writing phase, anyone can use these tools and tips to build their foundation. Even a pantser could use it as they work through their novel. 

I’ve broken the outlining phase into a simple, four-step process, with a result of the Story Blueprint, which is a hyper-detailed outline of your story.

Step #1 Brainstorming

The creative spark that ignites your story often takes place days, weeks, or even months before you sit down to write. And your initial brain dump typically excludes the details; instead covering the overall plot arc and, sometimes, the framework of the plot resolution.

During the initial brainstorming phase, you’re working through your plot, creating your character profiles, begin world-building, and think of things that could happen throughout your novel. There’s often little in terms of detail and order, but that’s not what the brainstorm is about.

The brainstorm is about harnessing your creative power to generate ideas you can later build upon, expand, and eventually use to resolve your plot. 

Brainstorming Tip #1 Pay attention to your surroundings.

When we notice our surroundings, we realize how much natural inspiration we’re faced with every day. When I started paying attention to the world around me, I was bombarded by continual inspiration. What you might end up finding, is that there are too many ideas you don’t know how you’ll track and manage them all.

Which brings up to our second writing tip…

Brainstorming Tip #2 Keep a pen and paper nearby (or use the Trello app on your phone!)

Once the floodgates open and the ideas flow, having a means to document and track your story ideas will prove imperative to your writing process. I use Trello to do this, but you can use any method that best works with your process; and when all else fails, keep a pen and paper nearby to jot down your ideas for later refinement. 

The first two tips were what I like to call passive tips, which are designed to work while you’re living your day-to-day life; while these last three are active tips, meaning they are designed for when you’re sitting down to actively work on your story.  

Brainstorming Tip #3 Indulge silliness and be out-of-the-box.

When I’m creating a working outline, I use this when I get stuck. I sometimes refer to this as the “What if” tip, but this tip is all about thinking up the craziest, most experimental and off-the-wall scenarios. Creating something out of nothing is not a foreign concept to any writer, but it still might prove uncomfortable, especially if this is your first novel-length attempt or your venturing outside your comfort zone.

Add humor, exaggerate, draw from personal experiences to grow your story arc passed your current concept. 

Brainstorming Tip #4 Try something new.

Doing something new might not sound like a productive method to brainstorm, but have you ever been so involved in your project you couldn’t see something right in front of your eyes?

One time, I reread the same chapter almost thirty times and didn’t see a very obvious spelling error. I didn’t notice it until I let my manuscript rest for a few months and came back to it. Another great example is when I was having a plot issue I couldn’t resolve. I simply thought and thought and mulled and mulled, but couldn’t find a resolution. One evening I was thinking of it right before bed, and I ended up dreaming the perfect resolution that night.

The trick is to do something that occupies your conscious mind as to let your subconscious mind continue processing your issue to find its own resolution. 

Brainstorming Tip #5 Enjoy your self-care routine.

You can accomplish anything with the right mindset and having a positive head space is the first step to creating something out of nothing. Why? Because you can’t be creative when you’re weighed down by so many obtrusive and pestering things.

Unhappiness impedes the creation of new ideas because people who have unhappy tendencies tend to hold themselves back. 

Step #2 Researching

If set in modern times, you might not be required to research the ins and outs of today’s society, because you’re likely privy to the majority of popular culture and lifestyle; as long as you’re writing about a culture you’re familiar with. 

There are four sub-steps during the Researching step that streamline the process. While you can choose to complete the research at any point, I suggest starting your story on solid ground with a complete understanding of the world in which your characters and story are set. 

Researching Step #1 Identifying what you need to research. 

From your brainstorm, character profiles, and world-building basics, identify what information you know about and what information  will require further research.

If you’re writing about 21st Century England, you might have a decent idea of popular culture, trends, and styles; but could you say the same if you were writing about 17th Century England? Unless you’re highly studied in that topic, or any topic covered within your prospective manuscript, I’d doubt it. 

And even if you think you know enough, there’s always something for you to learn. 

Researching #2 Gathering the information. 

Gathering the information could be a few things. For me, I frequent second-hand thrift stores in search of books that might help me further my research. Yes, much of the information could probably be found online, but I find a physical book helps me better understand the material. 

During the “gathering” step, I’ll also compile a list of online magazines, websites, and forums that might help me find the information I’m looking for.

Researching #3 Reading the details.

In Step 3, I’m reading through all the materials I’ve gathered in Step 2, which makes this step the most tedious and time-consuming. I often use a spiral notebook to compile all my notes so I don’t have to constantly go back to the original website if I forget something. 

Researching #4 Using what you’ve gathered in your story.

Step 4 of the “Research” step bleeds into Step 3 of the “Laying the Foundation” phase, because it takes the information you’ve compiled and implements them into your story. 

Please note: There’s no need to complete every ounce of research before moving onto Step #3: Wire-framing. In fact, there are likely still massive holes in your plot, since we’ve only finished the brainstorming step. This initial research is largely about learning the basic information you’ll need to build-out your world; which might include: learning about the era in which your story is set, learning about what type of animals and foliage grows in your world; and any overall things you know will be imperative to your novel.

Once you have a decent amount of research gathered, you can refocus your efforts to your story arc and create a compelling story with accurate depictions. We’ll use this information from Steps 1 and 2 to start the wire-frame in Step 3. 

Step #3: Wire-framing

The wire-frame is the outline of your novel, and it differs from the Story Blueprint because it’s less detailed. It’s more like an overview of the chapters, then the details surrounding each scene.

To get started, you’ll want to compile the ideas you created during the brainstorm, and organize your ideas where they might best suit your novel.

I suggest doing this one of two ways:

  1. Using Trello cards to digitally move, if that best suits you; or
  2. Using index cards to jot your ideas on and move them around on your floor.

After you’re done organizing your ideas, you’ll likely notice there are blaring holes where your story is supposed to be. Use these questions to determine if you’re ready to move onto Step 4:

  • Do you have an enticing opening hook?
  • Is your first plot-point revealed about 25% through your novel? Does it propel your protagonist into the Second Act?
  • Is there a reaction between the end of the First Act and the start of the Second Act? 
  • Does your protagonist struggle with the plot (whether internally or externally), and how does this impact them?
  • Is there a defined Mid-Point?
  • What pivotal moment pushes the protagonist into the third and final act of your story?
  • How does your story resolve itself? What’s the big reveal, if there is one? 
  • Have you detailed how your protagonist defeats their antagonist?

Use the questions above to further pin-point the key plot points of your story. Once you have these key parts built-out, you can easily start writing your novel; or you can move onto Step 4, which goes over the story blueprint.

Step #4 Story Blueprinting

As I mentioned, many writers stop at Step 3, which outlines the basics of your story. The Story Blueprint takes your outline a step deeper and combines the research you did during Step 2 and the basic outline you created in Step 3. 

The Story Blueprint is all about ironing out the details of your novel. While the wire-frame is enough for many, I’ve found that next step, the Story Blueprint, helps me avoid the many things that cause a manuscript to stagnate. 

I’ve suffered from writer’s block, and while my theories around writer’s block is the topic for a different day, my way to deter and avoid this debilitation was to create a guidebook for my story: the Story Blueprint.

You’ve organized your brainstorm into scenes and chapters, but now you can take a bird’s-eye view and gauge your manuscript. Consider overarching things like plot, plot holes, sub-plots, character development, and world-building. Are these things well-paced throughout your novel, or are they brought up only when they’re relevant?

Identifying these things now can help you even out the edges and plan your scenes to foreshadow and drop hints to ensure you aren’t info-dumping later in your story (when certain, complex information becomes relevant.)

Use this time to add scenes to push the plot in the direction you need it to and determine in which scenes you can drop character and world-building hints. Though often overlooked, this is a great way to add depth and detail to earlier scenes, and thin later scenes, which you might want to progress quicker. 

Combined, these four steps build your story’s foundation; and can help you resolve issues that might increase future time spent on things like editing. It’ll also help avoid burnout and writer’s block, and could decrease actual time spent writing, because you know the direction you’re headed and can review upcoming scenes daily.

ACTION STEP: Try this massively detailed pre-writing method and see where it takes you. Have you tried it? Or are you about to? Join my email list and email me back to let me know how it worked for you!

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