Thursday, May 14, 2009

First and Last Pages

"You know my methods," Holmes said to Watson. And anyone who's read my posts or comments in blogland knows that I believe firmly in the outlining method, of doing pre-production work and Knowing My Story before I begin to write. Knowing my story means, more than anything else, knowing how the story ends. I need to work toward something, to write at a goal, so I know where I'm going and how to tell the story.

All of which is to say, after a great lot of dithering I have at last figured out how my next book ends, and I've written the last page of it. Just this afternoon, over lunch. I had an image in my head and I wrote it down; yes I did, you boys. Now I have the first page and the last page and all I have to do is fill in the lengthy middle bits. How hard can that be? I've already got 1500 words; I just need to come up with 98,500 more. Piece of cake.

Working title of brand-new work-in-progress: The Factory.


  1. Sounds a bit Kafkesque that title! :-)

  2. I have envy. I want to work on a new WIP...I'm tried of editing!

  3. Rick: It's a zombie cheesecake factory! I so rule the literary world now!

    Litgirl: I think it'll end up being more Gogol/Dostoyevski than Kafka.

    Guppy: I'm still on my final round of edits, but this time at least it's just a line edit and not a real revision. Keep at it; be tough and mighty. You know you can do it.

  4. Kudos to you. I'm beginning to think that I will work better if I come up with the end and work toward that as well. I didn't do it with my first novel, and I've had to go back and start over now that I know how the story unfolds. I would have saved myself a lot of time and energy with some serious pre-planning. The first novel has been quite a learning experience.

  5. I recently realized I did plan my first novel (a little). The biggest impediment was my lack of knowledge; even though I knew the story's beginning and end, I didn't fully understand conflict resolution, character development, etc.

  6. The Factory? That's too darn simple and mysterious; you need a subtitle. I offer:

    The Factory: where bald women work for a gun-lovin' baddie. Shh! It's a secret.

  7. I'm guessing it's a post apocalyptic factory. A father and son end up there in an attempt to save themselves, though, of course, the father is coughing up blood, and we know that can't be a good sign.

    Scott, when are you going to realize that outlines don't work? You'll never get a good book out of it. You'll never be able to fit the beginning to the end, and as a result you'll never get an agent. When will you learn?

  8. A method some writers use is to just delve into a plot without knowing where the story is leading. One justification for that can be; if the writer doesn't know where the story is headed, the reader would surely be surprised.
    Obviously, an accomplished writer can weave anything he wishes into his story, surprises included, with subtlety and ease. That’s not the point I’m trying to make.

    I guess I’m just curious if you have written without an outline, or started a story without a clue of its conclusion, even if it was only an exercise.

  9. Charlie: I've begun stories with no idea where they were going, but pretty soon after I start, I need to know my destination. I don't like writing (or reading) stories that are clearly just finding their way as they go along. I don't want my writer to be surprised, I want him to know exactly what he's doing.

    I write from outlines but I still manage to surprise myself. The plot, the structure, is not where the creativity is. The creativity is in the character and the language and I get good ideas within my outline. It's like saying that, because games have rules, it's boring to play games because "you already know what will happen."

    I wonder how many *published* novelists truly just dive in without a clue where they're going. I write to tell stories, not to see how creative I am or if I can surprise myself. If I plan a surprise party for you, will it not be a surprise for you because I've planned it?

    Anyway, the idea that outlining kills creativity is total bullshit. It's work shifted to the front end of the process, is all it is. At some point you have to figure out what your story is, so why not figure it out before you've written 100,000 words instead of afterwards?

  10. Charlie: I know that I'm making statements that have nothing to do with your actual comment; I got onto a little rant about outlining versus creativity because I see people constantly saying that it kills their muse to outline. So don't take the above comment personally!

    I think that some people start writing before they have a story, which is just the opposite of what I do. I start writing when I have a story I want to tell. It took me about a year (or more) to figure out if I actually had a story for the book I'm talking about in this post. I didn't want to dive into a long-term project before I knew I could actually make something from my efforts. But de gustabus non disputandem, I guess.

  11. Davin: Sort of, but it's actually a post-apocalyptic cookie factory run by elves. Eeevil elves! Eeevil zombie elves! They make brain cookies! I see a Pulitzer!

    My outline looks like this:

    1. Start with Scene 1 (written)
    2. Pad for length (cut random stuff from Project Gutenberg texts?)
    3. End with Scene 2 (written)
    4. Send to agent. Get paid lots. Retire on beach.

    You're telling me that's not a roadmap to success?

  12. Ranter,

    You wailed on poor Charlie. Ha ha. Just post about it and be done with it. What the flip does "de gustabus non disputandem" mean? "Of windy bus, there is no disputing"?

  13. Yep, piece o' cake! Congrats on the end. That really is a big deal, Scott. It's where I always get stuck.

  14. I read somewhere that the first page makes a reader buy this book; the last page makes a reader buy the next book. (can't remember the exact quote sorry)

    So, with the first page and last page done, you've got the mmost important bits behind you. What's another 98 500 words in between?

  15. Okay, I realize this post is a few days old, but I'd like to rehash it, if you don't mind. Regarding outlines, here's my serious comment. I think outlines work great for a lot of people, but for me, they aren't as useful in the beginning of my project. For me, it does kill creativity to an extent. I completely understand what you mean about moving the work forward. Once you know the end, you have to go back and revise your story so that it doesn't meander aimlessly. I take a lot longer to find my ending, and as a result it probably takes me a lot longer to write the book. But, a certain amount of enthusiasm is lost when I know the end of my story. Not all enthusiasm, but some. If that drop off were to happen when I only had an outline, I would still have a lot of writing left to do before I would be done with my book. However, if I don't know the end as I write, then I have a lot of words by the time that drop occurs. Then, it's a matter of looking at my words and shaping my book, rather than coming up with the words for the first time. For me, that difference makes it more fun to not have an outline in the beginning. I do eventually make an outline. For my book, I probably turned to outlining about two years into my writing. At that point it became necessary to organize my story, but I also had about 80K words to work with. I've tried both methods. It's sort of an issue of when I get my second wind. I need to push that moment as far back as I can in order to finish the book.

  16. Oh, bitchcakes. I just wrote a brilliant reply to your comment, but I wasn't logged in and my comment was eaten by the interweb. Bitchcakes, as I say.

    I know that some people can't outline, at least not at the beginning. That baffles me and I can't get my head around it because if I don't know the story I'll spend the rest of my life staring at a blank page instead of writing. It's also true that I do a lot of my storytelling in my head, to get to the ending, before I commit much to paper, so certainly at some level I of course begin with almost nothing and flesh things out to find my characters and story. I have notebooks filled with...well, notes about stories before I begin writing prose, so on some level I'm still writing, amn't I?

    My above comments were a knee-jerk pent-up response to a lot of claims I've read lately that outlining, planning, kills creativity for anyone and is to be avoided. Which is not the case, and I was over-reacting with a generality of my own. I knew it at the time, but I couldn't stop myself. Sometimes my hands type words under their own power. Honest.

    That knowing the ending drains your enthusiasm when you begin is still a very foreign concept to me. It's once I know my ending that I get my real enthusiasm for the story I'm trying to tell. But there are more than one kind of story, so there must be more than one kind of storyteller.