Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Getting Started

What was the moment like for you the first time you sat down to type out your book of fiction? Did you write that first sentence and then the story took off? Was that first sentence the most difficult to write? (As it has been for me.) Or, by the time you sat down to type, had you already sculpted the protagonist and all her qualities in your mind so you were equipped to build the plot?

I'll be honest: I find that the first 25k words of a book are the toughest. I know that some people struggle with the second half...they lose momentum and run out of ideas, which is why so many people have half-written novels tucked away in the archives of their computers, but for me, starting out is the hardest. Because it just seems SO DAMN DAUNTING. That, like, from this blank page, a novel will emerge.

But, on to your question.

No, I didn’t (and don’t) just sit down and start writing. Both times, I had a pretty good idea of at least the first half of the book, as well as the characters who would be in it. I really like to come up with a loose plot – and I say loose because a lot of things change once I start diving in, ie, in TDLF, one of the main love interests wasn’t even an original love interest at all, and I’d planned to have a different character fill that role...but when I started writing, things just fell into place organically – and spend some mental time with my characters before I start writing. I think that if you don’t do that, you’re prone to writing rambling chapters without enough plot because you’re sort of feeling your way as you go. And that doesn’t lead to good writing. (See: my first draft of my first novel!)

So rather than force yourself to write, which, by the way, is still a good way to exercise your fiction muscle, I’d instead focus on your key character and what you want to do with her. What’s her story? What are the conflicts that she might be dealing with? Is she a go-getter? Ballsy? Complacent? Is she happy in her job/relationship/life? Etc. Spend a little time kicking that around, and then the writing will come easier, I think. In fact, after I get to know the characters in my head, the first line and the opening scene come to me pretty easily. I'm guessing the same will be true for you.

So readers - what's your process? Do you sit down and write or take some time to craft a background story before you begin?


Trish Ryan said...

There is a great worksheet floating around out there somewhere for character development...it prompts you to list all manner of details about these people you're creating, and in my (brief) foray into fiction writing, I found it soooo helpful. I'd start to write something like, "and then Michael did xyz..." and then realize, wait - Michael would NEVER do xyz...tha'ts not like him at all!

The bummer was that I spent way more time getting to know my characters ("what does she think about as she applies her mascara?" I'd ask myself...) than actually writing. That's why I'm better w/nonfiction, where I don't create the people :)

Susan Johnston Taylor said...

Allison, that brings up another question. As I'm reading your book, I'm curious about what other aspects changed. Has the tone remained the same and you've just tweaked plot points and characters? How different is the book from what you'd originally envisioned?

Since you already paid it forward yesterday, you might like to get in Deb Ng's Pay it Forward Tuesdays (http://writersrow.com/deborahng/freelancewritingjobs.html), especially with the book launch next week. Good luck!

Patti said...

Allison...I am not new to writing, but I am new to having my writing published. ~rim shot~

I have just finished my second novel, and I am already working on the third...nothing like an optimist!

But here's the question: How exactly does the secret handshake go? Left hand upside down first? Thumb up? Down? I know if I just knew this damned handshake I'd be all inside with the easy street crowd and not on the outside, in the sunshine, with my pale skin starting to pink in the sun.


MaNiC MoMMy™ said...

I'm thinking you're referring to Zach here, aren't you!?!? I am on Round Six, I think, after the masectomy and going upstairs in a minute to read more. If it weren't for the three children, Brownies, softball, tball, baseball, helping out at preschool, freelance work and trying to write my own darn novel, I'd definitely be finished with TDLF by now! My spare time is spent reading it, (that, and blogs!)!

My characters live inside my head for a long, long time until they are ready to jump ship (oops, just wrote shit --see earlier blog post on MM and you'll see why that's on my mind!)... they jump ship and grow and live on their own page, in their own story. That's a great feeling, when they've moved from my head to the page!

Sorry so long!

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Thanks guys! I'll answer these questions on the blog. And Trish - thanks for passing that info along. Good stuff.

MM - Yup! Originally, I'd never considered Zach for the role of romantic lead. :)