Pseudocode is a term that first showed up around 1960. One source defined it as “A notation resembling a simplified programming language, used in program design.” I have decided that this term is useful for our purposes, so I am stealing it for those of us writing fiction.
Here’s the new definition.
Writing that resembles or summarizes story, used in first drafts and outlines.
No one produces fully functioning software from the first line on a blank screen. And no one produces fully functioning fiction from the first sentence. There is writing that must come first. Writing that no reader should see. Writing that is in service of the writer as the story is created.
Here’s an example of the use of pseudocode from my current project:
So I said to the messenger. Tell our king this: Who am I to be your kinsman? Who is my father’s clan that I should be the son of the king by marriage?
[Saul hears this and sees David as weak and gives Merab to another (ESV). Skip the next paragraph.]
[Per Deane, there is an attack by the Philistines on the day of the wedding. I would add that Saul sees this as a sign that David is inept in beating back the Philistines – as he has commanded him to do – thus gives Merab away and sets David up for failure.]
Wedding, rushed, too rushed. It is not at the palace. We stand in the hall by the edge of the theatre. Mid-wonder there is a crush at the door. It takes too long for my men to rush in and thus too long to gain a sword, but this close work of the battlefield, even here, is what I have done and do again. My dagger from under my cloak.
The pseudocode is mixed in with research and with bits of prose that are leaning toward fiction. There is no story yet, but it is being drafted. The craft point here is that you should cut yourself a break, take the pressure off, and simply write the pseudocode. Not only will you then have something on the blank page, but you’ll be moving toward understanding what the story or scene is trying to accomplish. In the next draft you can write to unpack what is happening in the pseudocode. But for now, you have a first draft. A start. And that is very good news.