When I wrote my last manuscript, I let inspiration carry me away. I had the introductory scene all laid out in my head, and my POV character’s voice was whispering to me in my head. I dove in head first, hard-core pantsing my way through the plot as I went.

At first it was great. But about two-thirds of the way through, I’d dug myself into a plot hole I couldn’t get out from, my worldbuilding was haphazard and unclear, my character’s motivations were fuzzy, and I had no idea where to go next.

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Photo by martinak15

I finally figured out how to climb out from under the mess, but it made my drafting process a lot longer than necessary.

This time around, I didn’t start drafting until I knew where I was going. And to know where you’re going, you need the details filled out on three foundational elements of your story: characters, worldbuilding, and plot.

Drafting Characters

I always start my stories with its central character. Something about them just catches my imagination—but since characters should fuel everything else in your story, it’s a very practical place to start, too.

Your character is bound to become more concrete as you write, but before you start, you should at least know the basics of all your key major and minor characters—likes and dislikes, quirks, personal history, voice, and, most importantly, what motivates them.

Drafting a New World

Your story’s world is the backdrop and foundation to everything that happens in your story—so you better have your details straight.

Planning ahead is most important for fantasy and sci-fi (does this planet have two moons or three?), but even if you’re working in a familiar modern-day setting, attention to detail on the front end can be the difference between a dynamic setting and a flop.

Drafting Plot

When I start a new story, I usually have a good sense of where I want to go—but the way there can be incredibly messy, and sometimes it doesn’t go at all where I expected. To map out my new story, I started with the primary plot arc, then looked to individual character threads, and then to other supporting subplots. Then, I started grouping developments for those into chapters.

By the time I have plugged through the exercises of developing these three foundational story elements, I was chomping at the bit to get drafting. I felt more inspired to write, and also more confident.

Will my story turn out exactly like I planned? Probably not—we all have ideas as we draft, no matter how much we prepare. But with a solid foundation to build from, I feel more comfortable experimenting with those new ideas when they come.

And even better, all this preparation has made my drafting not just more efficient, but also much stronger.

How do you prepare for a new story?


Pick one of these three elements for your work in progress or next story—spend 15 minutes fleshing out the its key details. What do you know? What’s missing? Share your brainstorm in the comments!

By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

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