Sunday, November 05, 2006

Beginning at the Beginning is a Stupid Thing To Do

I’m finally sitting down to start Bloody Charming, the third in the Garnet Lacey vampire chick-lit series, and I’m stymied. I can’t seem to figure out where this story starts.

The funny thing is that I have an outline that details the plot from beginning, middle, and end, so it’s not like I don’t have a handle on the story itself. I had, in point of fact, begun at the beginning, which is to say, sometime before the action starts. I’d had Garnet on a boring little bicycle ride home interrupted by the sudden appearance of a wolf. Cool though that image was, I realized that what followed was a lot of meandering as Garnet went though her day, essentially being happy.

Not cool.

So tonight, I restarted the novel at the first gathering of Garnet’s potential coven. I’m much happier with that because there’s action… though I realize the conflict is still not center stage. I’m going to have to rework that in revisions, because I’m also throwing a lot of new people at the reader all within the first ten pages. I think that I can make that onslaught of names work if there’s a core story for the reader to follow – which is going to be Garnet dealing with Blythe, the sexy comparative religions major, who is hitting on Sebastian.

It amazes me how bloody difficult writing is. I’ve been teaching writing for years now and I have any number of sort of “pat” phrases that I tell my students over and over. One of them is that they need to start their story at the moment of conflict. Start, I tell my students, with a problem statement, not unlike the thesis of a paper -- so that your reader knows what the hypothesis is going to be, what answers they should be looking for. State the novel’s core conflict in the first sentence (or thereabouts.)

Yet, when it comes time for ME to sit down and write, I flake. I get distracted by the pretty, by the fun.

Now I have to pay the price. I’m going to have to take my own advice.

How annoying is that?


jpj said...

Two things, both of which I stole from other people:

1. Asimov says in his biography that when he was stuck beginning a story it was almost because he was starting too soon in the action. "Begin in the beginning" was sometimes the wrong place to begin. "Begin in the middle" was sometimes better.

2. Writing is hard. Dan Simmons wrote somewhere that about 500 people in the US make their living writing fiction. About three times that number make their living writing and have to supplement with "day jobs," supportive partners, trust funds, whatever. The upshot is that fewer people can make a living writing than play in the NFL for a living. Or major league baseball.

I tell my students this at the beginning of the term just to get them to realize that what we are attempting to teach them is REALLY FRICKIN' HARD and they should expect to work their butts off doing it because it is harder to do it professionally than it is to play in the Big Leagues. Sometimes they even believe me.

tate said...

Writing *is* hard. Dan Simmons is a wise, wise man.