Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Writing Advice #2: Where Do I Start?

My blog has been quiet lately because I’ve been...well...writing. But I’ve finally found a moment for my second installment of Writing Advice, which was inspired by an article I recently read (and tweeted). The article is “The Making of a Novel: The Temptation of Jumping Ahead.” You can check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/285y8wp.

As an author, I’m often asked about various aspects of my writing process (seriously, people do ask!) What inquiring minds want to know is whether I write individual scenes that will appear at various points in the novel and then link them all together, or whether I start at the beginning.

Here’s the deal. Before I start writing, I typically “see” the big scenes. I have a general idea of the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Sometimes I’ll write a rough sketch of major scenes to use later.

But as a rule, I start at the beginning and write the novel in chronological order. Yes...I start with nothing—the dreaded blank computer screen—and turn it into something. This may seem painful—and sometimes it is. But trust me...it’s worth it.

The reason for writing chronologically is that even though I’m pretty clear on my “big” scenes early on, they don’t always end up exactly as I’d imagined. They actually turn out better.

By the time I get to the middle and the end, things usually change. Why do they change? Because when I start at the beginning, I get to know my characters well. Very often I’ll visualize a scene and a character’s behavior and dialogue in that scene, and by the time I get there (which could be months after I initially came up with the idea), I’ll think “Hmmm...now that I know him better, I don’t think he’d say or do that.”

So this leads into another piece of advice: get to know your characters. Live with them. Listen to them and let them unfold. This is why I’m such an advocate of starting from the beginning—it gives you the time to get inside your characters’ minds and to fully explore and develop these people. I’m always amazed at what my characters will reveal as we go along together. And often, when you take that straight road, it branches off into fascinating places you never expected.