The official blog of Jane Domagala


Pre production is an important part of writing a novel. Starting a novel without any pre-thought can be like fumbling in the dark for the light switch. In part 1 I spoke of getting an idea for a story and getting to know your characters. This post is on plot and world building.

This is as important as your characters. In fact, your characters and the plot are usually entwined. I never begin a novel unless I have some idea of how it's going to end. Rarely do you get in your car, without a map, and just drive. If you don't know where it is you're going, you could end up getting lost. Plotting is like a map. It shows you all of the possible routes you can take, but without a destination they're all pretty useless. You don't need to know all of the roads you'll take to get to your destination, and sometimes you can still get lost, but if you've done any plotting then, like a map, you can refer to it and get back on track.

The road you take may change depending on your characters and how they respond to intersections (conflicts). Plots and subplots are a useful way of adding conflicts to your character's lives. Need some spice? Add a subplot about an old rival who's back in town, or give your character a task that threatens to take them away from the main plot, thereby putting more pressure on their shoulders to complete both their task and save the world.

Your plot has to be flexible, as your characters will want to deviate from time to time. But remember, you have a destination and you don't want to be late to the party, so remind your characters where it is they're going and they'll be sure to come back around.

World Building
When writing fantasy, world building is essential. Even if you're writing urban fantasy, you still need to know your setting. World building can be a big job, especially if you're starting from scratch, as I often do. One useful tool is to look at our own world. We have such an amazing planet with diverse landscapes, weather conditions, cultures and species. Draw from all that is around you to create your own unique world.

Know as much about the world as you can before you start writing. Does the setting change? What is the weather like and will it have an effect on how your characters live or make their decisions? Are there lots of trees, or is the land barren? Do mountains divide countries? Is there gold, or precious elements in the ground worth fighting over? How do the people work with/against the land?

World building is so much more than just the physical surroundings. Is there more than one race? How do different cultures relate? Do they clash? Is religion important? What rights do men, women and children have? Is there a social structure? Who rules the land? How is it run?

And what about animals and plants? I could go on. World building is really about using your imagination. Have some fun with it.

Next time: Pre production Part 3, Character and Story Arcs.


I've just begun a new novel, about a week ago. I've been nonstop busy working on it. So how many words of my new novel have I written? I hear you ask. None. And I won't until I've done some preproduction.

If you try to start a novel without any pre-though of what you're writing, you'll more than likely fail. There are those who choose to write organically – without making any plans – and it can be done, but it can make for a difficult journey. Preproduction is sort of like packing the esky for a trip to the beach. Sure you might forget to pack the potato salad, or you packed too much bread, but you have the sausages and the steaks so it's all good.

I'm going to break this post up into three parts, going through the things I take into consideration before I begin writing any novel. In this post I'm going to talk about the idea and characters, and then in later posts I'll follow with plot, world building, character arcs and story arcs. So let's begin.

The Idea
Without the idea there is no novel. Ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere; a bird flying over the sky, a story on the news, a conversation you overhear on the bus. Each writer will find their own unique way of sourcing ideas.

An idea can be exciting and the thought of turning it into a novel even more so. But don't hack into the sculpting clay just yet. An idea is not a story. It is one piece of information.

In business, if you had a new concept that you wanted to present to the boss, you would think about it first, the pros and cons and how you would make the idea work. Writing a novel is no different. So take this new and fabulous idea and spend some time thinking about it. Mull it over in your head. Question it's plausibility as a solid idea. If it's flimsy, don't throw it away just yet. Think about ways you could strengthen it. What themes can you draw from this idea? Do you want your story to have a message? Does the idea have the potential to grow? If you can answer these questions than you've made a start.

You can't begin your novel without characters. Who wants to read a book about settings alone? You need to find characters that will fit in with your themes and ideas and also ones that will clash and cause conflict. You need to spend some time getting to know your characters, asking yourself questions about them – what are their beliefs, their goals, their fears, their passions? It's not imperative to know everything about all of your characters before you begin, but you need to have a good idea of what drives your main character before you try and tell their story. How would you like it if someone tried to write a book about your life without ever asking you a single question?

Getting to know your characters can take some time, so be patient. I find it helps to write a short biography of their life, before they met you. Where did they grow up? Who were their friends? What sort of relationship do they have with their parents? And so on...

When I'm getting to know my characters, I like to know how they'll handle the situations I have in store for them. I'm talking, of cause, about the plot and their journey throughout the book. But that is for next week. For now, spend some time thinking about what your characters would do if... Throw as many conflicts at them as you can. Test their strengths and weaknesses. They just might surprise you.

Next time: Preproduction Part 2 - Plot and World Building
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