The first two books I ever wrote were novels, sweet young adult romances with a very predictable plot line. Girl falls for wrong boy. Complications ensue. All is made right with the world and the good guy gets the girl. 12 chapters each and each chapter ran about 12 pages. I wrote them sitting on the stoop in the garage watching my first husband work on cars. And I wrote them straight through, from beginning to end. I figured that was just the way you were supposed to write a book, the same way you would read it, chapter by chapter. Plus I was taking a creative writing class and it just made sense to have the next chapter ready to turn in each week. (Egads, did I really write that much, that fast, back then? I think I did.)
Along the way I have written a lot of other things, picture books and articles and basically anything I could get paid for. Because my life was crazy busy with two young children I learned to write all over the place, in the car, the waiting room, watching karate lessons. When I went back to working on a novel again I pretty much assumed that I would do it the way I had before, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, in order. Of course I also assumed I would be writing it in straight prose, not free verse, which is what happened with my middle grade novel, Hugging the Rock.
When I was stumped, I mean totally blocked on the straight prose version, a friend suggested that I just try poems to see if I could connect with the character. No one was more surprised than I was when the entire novel begged to be written in free verse. The advantage for me was that poems were small and fit perfectly into the pockets of time I had to give to my writing at the time. I had been working on the novel for a couple of years already so I knew a lot of what I wanted to say, I just didn’t know where anything went. Because my life was crazymaking at the time I just threw caution to the wind, picked a scene I knew I wanted in the book, and wrote the poem. The went on for a month or so and pretty soon I realized I needed to put them into some sort of order. By then I felt I had enough of a hold on the story that I could think in a more standard format, beginning to middle to end. But when the book sold and my editor asked me for some new poems, I didn’t think about where they were going, I thought about what they were going to do for the story.
It was a slightly fragmented way to approach storytelling and yet it worked for me.
Last year when I was struggling to decide which story to tell, Plant Kid, Max or Flyboy, I started writing letters to the characters and having them answer me. And in case they led me to scenes in the book, scenes I had no idea where they would go when all was said and done. I’m not sure why this is easier for me, perhaps it breaks the book down into more manageable pieces? And even though I have written the first three consecutive chapters on my current WIP, Flyboy’s story, I don’t expect that it will continue in chronological order. How do I know? Today I wrote a new ending to chapter 3 which immediately made me think of a scene toward the end of the book. That scene is on my mind now and will probably be what I write tomorrow.
It may or may not end up in the final book but that’s not what matters, at least not to me. I am a character person and have to watch myself for getting so deep inside my character’s head that I forget to make him, alawriterjenn DO SOMETHING especially DO SOMETHING IMPORTANT.
When I think in scenes I remember that the action in scenes is the building block that carries the story forward, page after page.
And that is what matters most to me.
Today Becky Levine has a post weighing the pros and cons of writing out of sequence at her new writing blog.
For some of my older posts about writing scenes out of sequence check out my conversion to index cards, avoiding a scene a don’t want to write, and a couple of more here and here.
I love this post. I find it totally fascinating to hear other writers’ processes, especially when they are so different from mine. I, too, am a total character writer. But I can’t imagine writing out of sequence like that! Fascinating!
I also love your poignant recounting of your first writing (especially the part about watching your husband work on cars). Sometimes I sort of miss those “innocent” days when I didn’t know as much. Ya know what I mean?
I think so many of us have to fight our way through the writing of each book.
“When I think in scenes I remember that the action in scenes is the building block that carries the story forward, page after page.”
This just blows me away. My fear is that, when I think in scenes, I will totally LOSE sight of the action and plot and focus completely on the character. But we’ll see! 🙂
Thanks for the shout out, Susan! I’ve learned a lot from you.