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Starting

I'd forgotten (again) how strange and difficult it can be to start writing a book.  I go through this every time (well, except for when I started The Forest of Hands and Teeth because that sort of came out of nowhere and was just an experiment).  And yet, every time I forget.

I've described writing as being a series of hallways with infinite numbers of doors.  Each time we write a word, we make a decision, we start closing those doors.  In the beginning, every possibility exists and in the end (hopefully) you look back along the course of the book and realize that there really was only one path all along.

Except that before you start writing, it's hard to even figure out which hallway you're in.  Where to start walking!

It's funny for me because this is probably the first time that I've really had a clear picture of what I want the book to be.  I know the characters (except for the pesky detail of one of their names which is driving me insane), I know the tensions, etc.  I've been super excited about this book ever since I turned in the proposal.  But I feel like I've got this character and she's staring at me and I'm staring at her and we're both just trying to figure out how to dive in.

Trust me, she's been ready to dive in for quite some time.

It's just made me realize that when you're in the middle of writing a story, you have the weight of all the words you've already written behind you.  You already have the characters set in time and place and circumstances.  For example, when I had Mary et al on the path outside the village, there were only a limited number of things that could happen to them.  But in the beginning... limitless possibilities.

And the beginning sets the course for the entire book.  The obstacles you set up now will come back around at the end, the character arc's established, etc etc.

How do y'all approach beginnings?  Usually I'm a huge proponent of BICHOK -- butt in chair, hands on keyboard -- when it comes to writing.  But with beginnings... I tend to do a lot more meandering.  I have to stop distracting myself and just spend time thinking.  Lots of lounging about which many people call "napping" and which I like to call "working."  After all, at the edge of sleep and awake I find the mind kind of lets go and all sorts of possibilities open up!

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
veschwab
Jul. 24th, 2009 05:08 pm (UTC)
I always start by writing a few scenes, even if I don't know *where* they'll go. If I close my eyes and can see my characters in a defining/emblematic situation, I'll write that scene.

I like your halls/doors analogy. I had a project where it felt like every door was clearly marked, but I had another one where I struggled so, so frequently with which door to take. I described that story as a sphere, because I could never clearly see where to start, where the front was.
serafina_zane
Jul. 24th, 2009 05:20 pm (UTC)
I begin everything differently, but the current Project I Really Want to Start has the same obnoxious problem: I know names of all these minor characters, but none of the main ones! Not the narrator, or her best friend, or her love interest, or her aunt and uncle... but I know the name of the manager at the movie theater she works at. It's bordering on ridiculous.
amysun
Jul. 24th, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)
I'm with you. I'm a proponentof BICHOCK as well, but I can't start until I have a certain idea of where I'm going, the more the better. I just spent four weeks basically staring into space until I felt that I had enough to go on, and even then, it was more a case of "I'm now four weeks behind schedule" than "Yes, I am completely ready to go!" Beginnings are wonderful and awful at the same time. :)
acoppedge
Jul. 24th, 2009 05:35 pm (UTC)
In the very very beginning I just write whatever, even if I know it won't wind up in the later drafts. Just something to get in the sandbox with the characters. Then I hit my stride and start writing what I know will be part of the story. Then I try to get to something that's unusual or eye-catching about the story and have at least a hint of it on page 1.
(Deleted comment)
reneesweet
Jul. 25th, 2009 01:21 pm (UTC)
I'm also a big fan of detailed outlines, but don't you find yourself in the place Carrie's describing when you set out to write the outline?
(Deleted comment)
reneesweet
Jul. 26th, 2009 01:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks, that was really interesting. :)
kathleenfoucart
Jul. 24th, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
Love this post, Carrie. I'm working on a sequel right now & I knew exactly which hallway to start in, but once I got out of that hall I wound up staring at endless doors going "How did I end up here?" and reaching for one door, only to pull back and go for another.

I'm having a hard time just letting myself think, because I'm also a BICHOK fan & usually something will wind up working. But I think this time I've got to let it simmer.
carrie_boo
Jul. 24th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
I daydream. All kinds of possibilities come out of daydreaming :)

Carrie
tinachristopher
Jul. 24th, 2009 10:44 pm (UTC)
I love the image of the corridors and open and closed doors.

To start writing I need an idea what's going to happen and so far I like working with mind maps. I draw out the big things that I know will happen and then see what springs off from there.

Good luck!
reneesweet
Jul. 25th, 2009 01:25 pm (UTC)
I'm so in this place right now, as well. I'm plotting my new story and I'm a bit lost in the labyrinth, as Marjorie Liu would say. I forgot how much *thinking* time is required to get going. How much I need to let ideas swirl before they're solid enough to put down on paper and build upon. I want to rush this part because, like you, my MC is very ready to tell her story. But rushing isn't helping. :) I'm trying to just give myself the time I need and to write down the scenes as I get them, giving myself permission to change them as I need to.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

Thanks for Visiting!

My name is Carrie Ryan and my debut book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, came out from Delacorte Press in the spring of 2009 with the paperback releasing February 8, 2010. A sequel/companion book, The Dead-Tossed Waves, will be out March 9, 2010. To learn more, visit my website.

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