I’ve been playing with a story idea for the past couple weeks. It’s time to get serious about it. Here’s an inside look into how I begin the pre-writing process for a new novel project.
I start with an idea. This could be a character, a setting, a conflict. Whatever it is, I hone in on it and develop ideas around it based on the initial inkling. In this case, the idea is old. Much older than I had initially thought. I just opened the ‘idea journal’ I had started back in elementary school. And one of the first stories from 2013 was my current story idea. I was shocked to find details like names and plots had somehow stayed the same throughout the years of the idea hibernating in the back of my mind.
This story, about pirates playing the role of Robin Hood on the open seas, doesn’t fit in either of the worlds in which I typically write (one modern/realist and one very much fantasy). Which means it’s worldbuilding time! Because this story has been in the works for so long, I’ve got a basic framework for the world. You can see some of my Pinterest inspirations for it here. At this stage I need to create some cities, and form an idea of the type of society of the people populating this world. For this story I’ll be focusing on building a justice system as the book is about pirates who are inherently lawbreakers and will encounter the justice system quite regularly. For worldbuilding, I’ll be using a lot of scene writing which you can learn all about in one of my earlier posts.
To aid the worldbuilding process I’ve been researching piracy in the 16th and 17th centuries as well as basic nautical theory and terminology. I use this research as a starting place and then either add or take away as I deem necessary for my personal world. I’m quite excited to learn about various kinds of knots. It’s very likely a character’s ability, or inability to tie a knot will come in handy while I’m writing.
Once I’ve got an idea of the world, how it functions and its basic history, it’s time to create the rest of my characters. I’m building a crew and introducing them to my Main Character via short scenes. Again, Pinterest has been helpful in selecting faces to go with names and personalities, but occasionally I have a very specific type of character in mind, and my artistic side goes wild at the chance to create something. Here’s a sketch I did for my main character to get a feel for how she would portray herself.
Alright. We’ve got a world in development. A crew of pirates and a Main Character currently lacking any discernible facial features.
Before I go onto the story, I need to do a little more on the physical world I’ve been building. For pirates, it’s important for me to know where they are going, and where those places are relative to each other. That means *takes deep breath* I get to make a map!
I’ll start with the land masses using pen and paper and then scan and add details to the map digitally. My current world map is bare bones at the moment, but I’ve got an idea of what goes where and that’s all I need at this point.
Besides a map. I love having or creating artifacts that show up in my story. For this project I’ve been watching the antique stores for a ring. I don’t know what it will look like, but once I find it, it will become the ring my Main Character wears all the time. I’ve also created a major artifact that serves as a plot device for the story using my bookbinding skills.
At this point I’m getting close to being ready to start writing, but first, I need music!
From a previous pirate novel, I’ve already got a couple of go-to songs and soundtracks. (Pirates of the Caribbean, obviously, and the Assassin’s Creed Black Flag soundtrack). But now I’m listening to a wide variety of new cinematic music as well as songs that speak to my characters’ situations or fit the general aesthetic of my story and gathering them into a playlist. The playlist has to be long enough that I don’t cycle through it too often making the music repetitive and uninspirational. I aim for about 8 hours of music per novel.
The last pre-writing step is plotting. For me, this becomes long and laborious and it needs a post all on its own.
In the meantime, while I’m researching, gathering music and building worlds, I like to immerse myself into my novel’s genre, especially considering I’m not well-versed in pirate literature. That means I’m on the lookout for TV, movies, and books (and video games too) about pirates!
Please, leave your suggestions about pirate literature and media for me to observe and research!
Stay tuned for part two of my pre-writing process coming next week!