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Phase 2: Testing Testing

You have your great idea.

You've committed to breathing life into it.

Now you need to test it.

Bend it.

Twist it.

Make sure the story you want to write is the best version of itself that it can be.

Remember: there is fun in every phase of this process, but for many (like me) the early stages can often be the most fun.

  • What is this story?

  • Who is it about?

  • What am I saying about this world?

  • How does it end?

  • What are the potential twists?

In this testing phase, you are still asking yourself "What if … ?" but now you're doing so in the confines of a project taking shape.

You have a spark.

Now you need to know what and where to set on fire.

Perhaps you have a solid plot, but no protagonist yet to cheer for.

Perhaps your plot has no shape, but you've got your eyes on interesting characters.

Or maybe you have a hero, but no villain. The true test of any hero - the character who will ultimately require your hero to become heroic - is a well-defined, multi-dimensional, strong villain.



Some writers jump right in.

Those who prefer to discover "on the fly" will tend to forge ahead, looking to see where their typing takes them.

If that's you, go for it.

Do this if you don't mind crafting numerous chapters in the wrong direction, as long as it means eventually finding your bearings and course-correcting.

Maybe something forged in those wrong-footed chapters is a gem that can be used later.



Hope springs eternal.



Some writers opt to set out each plot point in advance, laying the elements at their feet so they can see the whole story, start to finish, details defined.

If that's you, go forth and conquer.

Those who meticulously plan every element before writing will naturally engage with this testing phase.

However, be careful not to over-plan as this can rob the work of much-needed freshness during the writing phase.

And, sadly, locking everything down early can rob you of the joy of writing. The wonder of discovery. The breathing into life something that only had a rough shape.

Many give up during the writing stage when the process becomes laborious, becoming a slave to a story already fully formed elsewhere.



Many professional writers elect to first test their story to see if it has legs.

Is there enough conflict? What else could go wrong to prop up the inevitably saggy second act?

Is there enough challenge? Do the stakes rise? Do the consequences mount?

Is this a prize worth pursuing? Will the subject matter remain interesting?

Is this a fully-formed effort? Will plot and character and theme support another?

Ask yourself: Does this project justify an investment of the next 4 to 6 months?

I strongly encourage writers who are pursuing a professional approach to ensure they have a general sense of everything - who the characters are, what they want, where they're going, how the story will play out - before graduating into the writing phase.



You should seek to work smarter, not harder.

I once mentioned this in an earlier post, how well-established writers use 3x5 cards to distill their whole story down in 12 tiny sheets of paper with 1 or 2 words on each.

These are the sequences that map the whole story, blazing the trail but leaving the still-unseen landscape open to possibilities and discoveries.

Once you can tell yourself the story in a single breath - once you see everything from 10,000 feet and know where you're going and generally how you're going to get there - then you are ready for the writing phase.

Does that mean you will not need to edit later? Heaven forbid! Of course you'll need to edit.

As the saying goes: if you want 100 well-written words, you'd better write 1,000 because 900 of them will be crap.

But that'll be 1,000 words aiming in the same general direction, working together instead of straining to each go their own way.

And since it's crucial to know the end of each chapter before writing the beginning of each chapter, it fits that you should also know the end of the story before writing the beginning of the story.

Testing, testing ... 1-2-3.

Is this thing on?

Is it working?

This is not a cheat.

Nor is it lazy.

Quite the opposite.

It's about being deliberate.

Minding your craft.

Understanding your tools and knowing how to wield them to get the best results.

This is the responsibility - and preference - of professional writers.


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