Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How do I start a book? Well, it's like this...

Pretend I went to the movies and came home and wanted to tell my husband or kids all about it. The conversation would go something like this:

So there was this teenage girl from Arizona, right? And she'd never been special or popular or anything. Her parents were divorced and she hadn't seen her dad in forever. So the story starts when her mom wants to go off somewhere with her new boyfriend. So the mom ships the girl off to a beyond-nowhere named-after-cutlery small town in Washington state to live with her father, the most unobservant policeman since Barney Fife. And it's all really awkward because she and her dad are practically strangers and have no idea how to deal with each other.

So the girl goes to school, and even though she's never been popular, this tiny town is so starved for new blood (heh heh) that she's instantly the most popular girl in school. All the guys are hitting on her, except, of course, the hottest guy of all, her mysterious chemistry lab partner, who seems to hate her for no good reason. So of course, since she's more than a touch masochistic, she's attracted to him like crazy even though he's the strangest guy. He broods all the time, never talks to anyone but his brothers and sisters, and none of the family ever comes to school on sunny days. Then she pricks her finger, and the sight of her blood makes him go all weird...

So what does chatting about Twilight have to do with starting a book? Well, the way I start a book is pretty much like telling someone about a movie. I sit down at my computer, open a file and start typing as though the story was done and I was telling someone about it. The idea has been kicking around in my head for a while, but it's very much unformed. Mostly, I know about the characters, and maybe the opening hook. Probably, I have an idea about the ending. The middle is a fog.

So I start typing a few pages of background about my main character, and eventually get to the phrase "the story starts when..." Then I just sort of free flow the story, concentrating on goals, motivation and conflict, typing whatever comes to mind as the main character responds to each new dilemma at hand. I throw in new characters, their backstories, their subplots, etc. Whatever seems to work.

When I'm done this exercise, I'll have up to twenty pages single spaced of character study, plot and action. This jumbled up gold mine is the working outline that no one ever sees, except my dog, who likes to sit next to me on the couch while I work, but since she can't read, I figure I'm safe.

Next step? I take the working outline, separate out the background and character stuff, and turn the rest into a scene-by-scene synopsis. I use this to start writing.

Does the finished book follow the outline exactly? No. A lot of stuff gets changed along the way, but I don't worry about that at the beginning. A starting point is just that - a starting point.


Cindy Holby January 13, 2010 at 6:08 AM  

Joy, thanks so much for sharing your process. I think I'll try it out with my next beginning.

Gerri Russell January 13, 2010 at 10:39 AM  

Very creative, Joy!

EmilyBryan January 14, 2010 at 4:57 AM  

There's a lot to be said for getting out of our own way and letting our fingers just move. I like the idea of a secret synopsis that only the author ever sees.

It's sort of like Oz behind the curtain!

Gillian Layne January 14, 2010 at 5:05 AM  

It really makes a lot of sense. And I think it would free up a lot of creativity in the process. No judgements, just a bunch of "what if's". Thanks for sharing.

Janet Kay Gallagher January 15, 2010 at 1:28 PM  

When you sort out the background and characters and scenes, do you use cards or a note book or do you print what you have written and then sort out onto the computer?
Thanks for information.

Cindy Holby

Gerri Russell

Joy Nash

Bonnie Vanak

Emily Bryan

C.L. Wilson

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