A Pre-Writing Checklist for Fiction Writers

Filed in Writing Tips by on June 4, 2020 1 Comment

This is your crash course to the pre-writing process of a fiction story. Follow our checklist, and you’ll feel more confident and prepared when it comes...

Hyping yourself up to write a book is a lot like getting in the right frame of mind to start a new workout routine. First, the determination takes hold. “I am going to start right now.” Then, self-doubt takes over. “I have no idea where to start.”

So, this is your crash course to the pre-writing process. Follow our checklist, and you’ll feel more confident and prepared when it comes time to start writing.

1. Develop your elevator pitch, also known as a premise.

Your premise should mention of your protagonist, his or her goal, and the situation that will keep the protagonist from reaching the end goal. If you’re really good, you’ll fit all of this into a maximum of one or two sentences.

To trim down your premise, read it aloud, and focus on any extraneous words or details you can omit while still getting your point across.

2. Decide on your target audience.

Knowing who you are writing your book for is a major step in the pre-writing process. Selecting “everyone” or even “woman of all ages” are both too broad of an audience. No matter how well you write—or the topic of your book—it’s not going to be for everyone.

Dial your target audience in as niche as you can. Once you do that, you won’t feel the need to write to make every single person in the world happy.

3. Map out an outline.

I realize not everyone works from a detailed outline. There is a reason the terms pantser and plotter exist in the writing world. Pantsers normally refers to people who don’t like planning. The truth is, even if you’re a pantser, you still have to have a loose idea of the direction you want your plot to follow. Take time to mull over where your protagonist is at the beginning of your novel and where you want him or her to be at the end of your book.

If you are a plotter, use this pre-writing time to fully develop your book’s outline, but also remain flexible enough as you write so you can pay attention to areas where you may need to pivot away from your initial outline.

4. Gather your tools.

Before you sit down to write, make sure you have all the necessary tools you’ll need for a smooth start. These tools can include a computer and installing Microsoft Word, or if you prefer to write your first draft on paper make sure you have the paper and writing tools you like.

5. Pull together your research and sources.

Do your research ahead of time to minimize research time when you should be writing. Decide on an organizing method for your research as well. If you have a lot of internet research, either print off your research and highlight the portions you want to use or you can save a web page as a PDF and use Adobe Acrobat’s highlighting tool. Then, save these PDFs somewhere on your computer that you can easily access.

If you are working on a nonfiction book or are adding Scriptures to your fiction story, it’s super important to keep your sources organized and enter each source into your manuscript as you write. So, having all your research and sources pulled and organized and highlighted makes this aspect of your writing a lot easier.

6. Develop your character profiles.

If you’re writing fiction and creating your own characters, you will want to fully develop your characters ahead of time. Character profile sheets can help with this, and are easy to find online, but here is the key information you want to develop for each character: appearance, age, and personality traits—positive and negative. On top of that, you’ll also want to note how each character is connected to your protagonist and how you want each character to end up at the end of your book.

7. Build your writing schedule.

Once you get yourself organized, at some point you actually need to write. So, create a writing schedule you can comfortably follow. If you creating a writing schedule that’s too strenuous, you’ll most likely fall off the wagon.

8. Set up your backup plan.

There is nothing worse than losing your work—no matter how many words you have on the page. So, before you get too far into your word count develop a backup plan for your files.

I personally keep a file saved to my desktop, but I also save a new backup in Dropbox every time I work on my file, and I email the newest version to myself every time I close my document. This way, I have one main file (the desktop version) and I save out to two places (Dropbox and email). Having two separate backups on top of your main document protects you from all angles.

Keep the filename simple of your manuscript document. An example is Book Title_Manuscript_6-1-2020.docx. By including the word “manuscript” in your filename, you give yourself a keyword to search for if you ever need to use a search function on your computer to find the file. Also, be sure to revise the date at the end of your filename each day you write. That will help you produce a versions’ log in your backup locations.

9.  Set your word count.

Now that you’ve decided you’re going to write a book, you know what you’re writing about, and you have all your preliminary research, you need to set a final word count to aim for. Here’s a guide to use:

  • Novel: 80,000–100,000 words
  • Novella: 10,000–40,000 words
  • Young Adult Novel: 40,000–80,000 words
  • Middle-Grade Book: 20,000–50,000 words
  • Children’s Books: 1,000–10,000 words
  • Picture Books: no more than 600 words
  • Nonfiction: about 60,000 words or less (check specific word count for your subgroup of nonfiction)
  • Short Story: no more than 10,000 words

10. Commit.

Now, the only part of your project left is to write!


Want to learn more about self-publishing your book? Call 1-866-381-2665 to speak with one of our publishing consultants. Struggling with self-doubt as a writer? Read How to Overcome Self-Doubt as a Writer.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


About the Author ()

Erika Bennett is the Content Manager for Xulon Press. She has worked in the publishing industry for more than a decade and her passion is to make sure great books find their way into readers' hands. You can also find her writing on XulonPress.Substack.com.

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Google Docs or Microsoft Word to Write Your Manuscript - Xulon Press | October 27, 2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *