Thursday, January 28, 2010


My eldest at-home daughter is hip-high in final exams so she has spent most of this week reviewing and studying. Luckily, she's a very good student, so these exams shouldn't be too difficult. She's prepared.

When I write, I firmly believe preparation is everything. I try to know as much as I can before I actually start.

Characters: I write detailed biographies of each of my main players. A great deal of this information will never make it into my manuscript, but I've found it really helps. I'll learn their strengths and their foibles. I'll know their attitudes, their prejudices. Most importantly, I'll know their vocabulary. This makes writing their dialogue a breeze.

Setting: This can be inconsequential or vital, but I learn everything I can about it. I have files of pictures which I have gleamed from the internet. I've drawn a floor plan of the first two floors of the house where my WiP takes place; I've had to out of necessity. It's a big house and I've got lots of characters running about. I know the surrounding area (thank you, internet). Since I know the season ( and the actual date) the story takes place, I've learned what my characters would see growing in the gardens when they're outside and I know whether or not they'd need to put on a sweater.

Time Period: If you're writing something taking place in the past, learn your history. Learn about current events, current fashions, current food. If your story takes place in the present, decide how much you want to make it really now, or if you want it to float in the nebulous 'around now' world. Maybe it doesn't matter, but maybe it does.

This preparation may seem time-consuming, and I admit it can be, but I believe it is also ultimately, a huge time-saver. Doing this work will make your world real. You'll know who your characters are and where and how they live. Once this is done, once your world is built, you can toss in your plot with all its troubles and crises.

"In business or in football, it takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to produce spectacular results."
Roger Staubach, Hall of Fame Football Player


  1. What thorough preparation! It's the way I would do things were I a writer!

  2. Elspeth - You are so right about the importance of doing homework and preparing to write. The more thorough one is when one's preparing, the richer and more believable the novel is. One can add an incredible amount of depth to a story if one's gotten some background first. Besides, in my opinion, doing that preparation can be fun. I've had lots of great conversations with experts, and lots of interesting "field trips" as I've gotten ready to write.

  3. Crystal; I've found it really does help.

    Margot; That's the bonus, isn't it? You can learn all sorts of thing you'd have never thought of which can add to the richness of your plot.

  4. Even if some of the information you've gathered about your characters doesn't make it into the narrative, it influences the story. You know them inside and out and that's gonna show. Great post, preparation is the name of the game.

  5. I hate this stage, but you are right as to its importance! I enjoy the research, but the planning and the outlining--Ugh! Best of luck to your daughter!


  6. I've adopted a new writing policy of being prepared. I've started an outline, and character sketch for my next novel.
    I know they'll help me along the way.

  7. I'm awed that you do all that work in advance. I'm more the "throw it together and stir" type of writer. I create my bios and the short synopsis as I read through the completed first draft, making adjustments to my manuscript as I go. And I often add the appropriate factual information during the revision process. I think your way is probably better...

  8. Elizabeth; It really does help in the long run. You can know instantly when you're hitting a false note.

    Michele; It's not so much the planning as knowing who's around and where they are. If you do this prep, the outline almost takes care of itself.

    Carolyn; Trust me, they will. I've always found a huge payoff.

    Patricia; I can't 'throw it all together and stir' because the result is a disaster. Yes, this takes time. But I really believe it saves time when it comes to editing.

  9. I do a lot of the preparation in my head. I'm blessed with a pretty good memory, so once I visualize my character, they're pretty much available to me, complete with history.

    Reasearch is another story - that I do on paper. Well mostly... :)

  10. Preparation always pays, doesn't it? The richest books are the ones where the author knows far far more than (s)he's actually written about.

    And all the best to your daughter.

  11. Jemi; It doesn't have to be written down, I think, just figured out.

    Rayna; I think it does pay off. I'll pass along your good wishes to my daughter; and thanks!

  12. I have to agree with Jemi, a lot of my preparation is in my head. However, often that will extend into a lot of research and sometimes note taking about my characters.
    Especially if I wake up at night with an idea If I don't write it down then It is often gone in the morning.

    Publish or Perish

  13. Your preparations sound very similar to mine. Add to what you've already mentioned an intensive outline, and I end up spending as much as a year in prep work alone. But it's totally worth it.

  14. Fascinating stuff, Elspeth. I want to be this prepared and organized, and for book three, I'm going to at least start this way. Not sure that my brain is wired to stay on this track, however. I may want to freelance.

    Best Wishes Galen.
    Imagineering Fiction Blog


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