Monday, March 28, 2011

It's not where you start ...

I’m usually a very linear writer. It comes of all those years writing serials while going to school—I didn’t have time to get more than a couple of chapters ahead of schedule, and more often than not I pounded out the last scene right up against the deadline. I considered it good experience, since part of the reason I started writing serials in the first place was to teach myself to meet deadlines. So while I may not always know exactly where a given story starts, I always try to start writing at the beginning.

Except, apparently, when I write a serial as an adult.

With everything that’s been going on lately, I feel a little like I’ve climbed out of a car crash. I shake a little, and when I sit down to write, I find myself second-guessing my writing more than I should. Helpful constructive criticism from people who don’t know (or have forgotten) that I’m on a first draft is … less helpful than it otherwise would be. And under those circumstances, there is nothing more intimidating than trying to write a first sentence.

I have a thing about first sentences. I like to make them as startling, as fascinating, as I can. I consider the writing of a good first sentence or first paragraph to be an art form unto itself. It’s the door to a story, often introducing tone, character, and conflict all in one go. Often the theme works its way in there too, if you’re not careful. So first sentences are quite a job.

Consequently, I started writing the serial this time around on Chapter 2, because that chapter I knew. It’s about somebody having a nightmare, and it’s loosely based on a recurring nightmare I’ve had since childhood, so I knew that chapter inside and out. Then there’s a fight scene, and I’m pretty good at those and know how this one should go. There’s some tricky emotional stuff, too, and some characterization of course, but I knew the nightmare would ease me in.

So I wrote it. And then I went back and wrote Chapter 1. And they’re sort of working now. On to Chapter 3. I find I’m also writing my current novel a bit out of sequence, but it’s coming along beautifully. I still don’t completely trust the practice of doing scenes radically out of order—it’s not like I’m on a shooting schedule where I only have a location for two days, and so I have to start shooting there no matter where the scene falls in the movie—but it’s nice to have found a little way around my own neuroses.

Plus my strategy can now be summed up by one of my favorite Muppet Show sketches:

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