Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Writing Toward the First Line

Today at lunch, I forced myself to pick up a pen and push onward into Chapter 3 of Go Home, Miss America, the work-in-progress. After scribbling down a few hundred words in the space of an hour, I stumbled over what should be the first line of the chapter, which gave me the image that will open the scene and recur through it. I am simultaneously proud of myself, humbled by good fortune, and annoyed that I seem to have forgotten one of my basic tenets of the fictional art: write in scenes.

I see that I was having such difficulty getting on in this chapter because what I was writing was a bunch of character observations about my leading male and his wife, but there was nothing happening. There was no context, no action, no scene. The comments about who these people are were just sort of floating in space, disconnected from the story. Once I actually began to write about the husband and wife in motion, actually doing something, it all fell into place and I can see the next few thousand words of story. With a little more thinking, this whole chapter should fall into place fairly quickly now that I've remembered to write dramatically rather than thematically. So that's all cool, kids.

And so in a week I'll be fretting about Chapter 4, which concerns the leading female character. I have at most three sentences worth of material for this upcoming chapter, and no idea at all what sort of scenes will flesh out those meager sentences. But hopefully I'll at least remember that I am looking for scenes, not character attributes. Some days I'm a real dope.

This is how the first draft of the book is going to be, I think. Since I'm not outlining it, since I have no idea how it ends or even what the second half of the book will contain, I have only the barest faintest inkling of what I'm doing as I go along, and that means that I discover it as I write it, day by day. This does not make me happy as a method, but the resulting prose seems, so far, to be acceptable. I can't say how successful the story I'm building is yet. And despite my promise not to plan the book ahead of time, I really really (really) hope I figure out the ending before not much longer because I am operating far outside of my comfort zone and I am having to work much harder than I'd like.

Anyway, Chapter 3 of Go Home, Miss America is underway and I am no longer tempted by all the other story ideas floating around in my head.


  1. You know, it's funny while I was reading this I thought of you as an actor. Not a writer. It was like you were trying to convince yourself to do "method" but your acting coach told you to do "Stanislavsky" and then somewhere along the way, you got it in your head to try it the good old Uta Hagen way.

    I do appreciate your struggles though, and I'm glad I'm not back there, yet I miss it. In trying to get my books out on Kindle, I'm struggling to learn formatting and HTML codes and writing author bio's and back matter. Hopefully within less than a week I'll have it all up and running. There's a freebie I'm doing for the promotion so I hope you'll download it. Then you can see what I really write. It comes in at 13K so it's not too long. There's a lot of "character" depth in it, so I think it might surprise you. Well, it surprised me anyway, and I do think it's one of the better things I've written.

    And isn't it funny how sometimes we forget the basics of writing. It's like a wicked brain fart or something. I'll have to remember this post when I get back to my writing.

  2. So do I get to read that mystery novel yet???

    This project sounds fun, Scott. I love how you experiment so much and force yourself through those experiments to get better and better. I get so comfortable where I am that I'm afraid to do such things. My next project, however, is going to be quite different from what I've done before and I hope it works. It's a ways off, though, so right now just got to focus on this dragon scales book...which totally sucks at the moment. It's like I've completely forgotten how to write anything.

  3. 'I am looking for scenes, not character attributes.'

    Must remember that, must make a note for my WIP. Le Sigh.

  4. Anne: Are you putting your books out on your own? Go, you! I will certainly check out your freebie.

    Uta Hagen? "Nobody ever learns how [to act]. The search for human behavior is infinite. You'll never understand it all. I think that's wonderful." She was great as the maid in Reversal of Fortune.

    Michelle: Writing a first draft is so tediously annoying that I have to create extra challenges just to goad myself into doing all that work. I don't ever want to get completely comfortable. Though I don't always want to have to work this hard, damn it.

    Someday you'll tell me what your secret project is. Someday sooner you'll get to read the detective story. After I hear Mighty Reader's feedback.

    Damyanti: Yes, show that the characters are alive before you tell us what their lives are like! Aristotle claimed that action is character, and I think he's right.

  5. In some of my recent reading I've been really interesting in writers who don't write in scenes. Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go comes to mind. I've definitely picked up a lot of the scenelesness in my current writing. Some of it I like. Some of it I'm replacing with scenes again, but it seems to be a 50-50 mix. I think writing in scenes definitely activates the writing. I feel much more immersed in that type of writing. But non-scene writing sometimes feels more real to me. Ah, reality...just what Cyberlama really needs.