3 Phases of Story Creation

This morning I finished reading Jason Schreier’s latest book on the video game industry Press Reset. These days, the overall process of video game development is very similar to that of making movies. There are three major phases: pre-production, production, and post-production. Thinking about this, it occurred to me that writing a story or a novel can thought of in those same three phases.

Pre-production, for me, is all of the intangible thinking and reading that goes into the creation of ideas. It captures what is most often the most difficult part of writing to describe to non-writers. Writing a story isn’t just about sitting down in front of a keyboard for a few hours a day and hammering out words. For me, at least, it is the part that comes before that. The spark of an idea may take shape in my mind over a period of years. During that time, I am not thinking about the story exclusively, and there are times when it is completely out of my head. But it shaped during that time, consciously and sub-consciously.

For those writers who outline stories, you might think that the process of outlining the story is part of pre-production. I disagree. An outline is a product that is the story in a compact form. It is part of the production phase. Pre-production, in my mind at least, is all what happens before a single word goes on the page.

Production is the creation of the story outside of the writer’s head. That could be an outline, or it could be a first, second, or fifth draft (betas?). The writer is producing something in the physical (or digital) world. They are taking what is in their head and putting it on the page in some form or another. It is the programmer writing code; it is the artists applying paint to a canvas. At the end of production, you have a more or less finished product.

From my perspective, production includes revisions, feedback from writers groups, all of the stuff that takes the idea in the writers head and turns it into a polished manuscript.

Post-production, is the process that takes the polished manuscript, and turns it into a magazine story, a book on a bookstore shelf, a downloadable e-book. In my experience, post-production means working with editors and copy editors who help put finishing touches on the polished manuscript. It means proofreading galleys. For a writer, there is often a lot of waiting in post-production.

I kind of like this comparison between making video games (or movies) and writing stories (or novels). When I read a book like Schreier’s, I often find myself thinking, I wish I could be a software developer like those folks. The irony, of course, is that I am a software developer. But when I think about writing in terms of pre-production, production, and post-production, it makes it all seem much simpler in my head, a kind of mental gymnastics that allows me to think about the process of writing in ways that I have never before considered.

About Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

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