Thursday, April 30, 2009

How Do You Start?

There and Back Again
A Hobbit's Tale
Bilbo Baggins

"How to start? (pause) Ah, yes. Concerning hobbits."

Recently, I finished a project (see my WiP Wednesday yesterday). I've been stewing a lot about how a new story starts. And I don't mean the idea gathering, the note-taking, the naming of characters or anything like that.

I mean the actual first words you write.

How do you start writing your story? At the beginning? The end? (A lot of people gave me some great advice last week about writing the ending and then bridging the gap, something I was struggling with last week.) Somewhere in the middle?

As a teacher, I've endured attended many professional development meetings over the years. One of the things we learned a few years ago was this: Start with the end in mind.

Um, yeah, I do that in teaching. I know what I want the end result to be when I start a lesson. When I'm writing, this bogs me down. I don't outline, I don't plan ahead too far. That takes all the excitement out of writing the story. (For me. No stonage, please! We're all different.)

But in writing, I rarely, if ever, start at the beginning. And I never, ever have the end in mind. And I think that's what's been slowing me down from starting something new. I dunno why, I've always just written whenever and wherever and whatever the muse dictates. But lately, I've been feeling like I have to start at the beginning.

And I don't wanna. So I'm gonna throw caution to the wind (again) and start writing where I know what happens. I'm not going to pay attention if they're in chronological order. I'm just going to write the parts I have percolating. Then I can carefully piece together all my little scenes like a nice patchwork quilt. Wait. I don't sew. I actually hate sewing with a passion. Maybe that's not a good analogy. Piece it together like a puzzle? Yeah, let's go with that. I like puzzles.

How do you write? In pieces that you put together masterfully? From beginning to end with a full outline as a companion? Jumping around from beginning to middle to end? Chapter by chapter?

Lay it on me. I'm always interested to find out how other authors do their thang.


Jenn Nixon said...

I always start at the start. Lol...not that it always stays the same when I'm done, but I can't start any where else. Sometimes I have the ending in my head, usually it's just a general direction I want to go in the end.

I write by my characters more than a plot, though, I have a skeleton plot for them in general.

Keep doing it the way you do it if it works!!

Anonymous said...

Hmm, so weird 'cause I have been thinking a lot about this of late. I am rewriting my first novel and I don't know where I want to START the story - so I am completely stuck!!!

Typically I write scenes first - not in any kind of chronological order...just scenes that have replayed themselves in my head. At some point in the process I am able to string the scenes together and I start to see the whole story. Only then do start to piece it together and shape it.

Eventually I put some structure to it. But I always stress over what the FIRST words are going to be...

Windsong said...

I start with the picture I see in my head. Sometimes I have to go back and add stuff before it, sometimes not. The only real end I can ever see while I'm writing is the HEA end. Good luck with your beginning or middle beginning!

Eric said...

On my current WIP (not my short story),I actually wrote two whole chapters before I realized it couldn't be the beginning of the story. On my short story though, I really crafted a decent beginning (I think) and the story just took off from there. So I can't say I really have a process, but rather I just let the story come out however it comes out. Good luck to you though.

Lisa and Laura said...

We're so boring, we always start at the beginning. Always. And even worse we have a very detailed outline guiding us every step of the way. Yeah, we're total dorks, but it works for us.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I'm an orderly chapter by chapter person. But with my current WIP I did something rare and wrote the ending already. Now I have to fill in the middle. LOL

Michelle McLean said...

I start with whatever scene happens to be in my mind. I try to start as close to the beginning as possible; and I really do try to make my first few words the first words of my book. But they never, NEVER really are.

I suck at beginnings, really. I will spend as much time editing the first 3 chapters as I will on the entire rest of the book, I kid you not. And I stress myself out to no end trying to come up with that perfect first line.

I have started and abandoned 4 books in the last year, trying to write from start to finish. So now, I just don't worry about it. I start with whatever wants to come out at the moment, and then I work backwards and forwards and I start filling in the gaps. (and knowing how OCD I am with schedules and being organized, the fact that this crazy method of writing is working really well for me cracks me up to no end, but hey, if it works, I ain't going to poke at it too much) :D

Right now, I have most of my beginning done. I have actually got my beginning up until the middle and a few scenes that will go at the very end. I'm starting to work on the second half of the middle stuff while still stewing over that perfect opening scene (which I haven't figured out yet).

For my current book, I actually wrote what I thought would be the first five pages first...turns out they are really right smack dab in the middle.

So, my advice (or at least what works for me) - don't stress over the opening so much. It will come eventually. Just write what's in your head - stew about what comes first later (or while you are working on the rest of it). I like stewage time, don't get me wrong, but it has a tendency to derail me if I let it take over. So I just don't anymore :)

Rebecca Knight said...

Interesting post!

For some reason with my stories I always start with a place in my head... and then think of how I want it to end, before I think of a beginning. Setting/ending, then beginning. Weird?

From there, it's just a matter of figuring out where the most exciting place to start is, or how to tie it all together.

For my new WIP, I actually was struggling over how to start, and came up with the perfect opening paragraph in the shower of all places. Since I had no shower-pen (I should invent that!), I repeated it over and over and over until I had it memorized, shampooing at lightning speed so I could get out to my pen and paper ASAP.

Of course, you know that "perfect opening" will be deleted or preceeded by several chapters in a later version ;).

It's so interesting to see how others do it! If I started in the middle without an end, I think my head would explode.

ElanaJ said...

Jenn, I have never started at the start. This time I might.

Christine, I suck at starting a novel. That's why I don't start there. Um, yeah. Good luck with that! LOL.

Eric, I like how you say you just let the story come out. I need to do that better.

Lisa and Laura - losers! LOL. Whatev.

Jennifer - chapter by chapter? Once I'm about 2/3 of the way through, I can write like this.

Michelle, I'm so going to do this. Just write what I have in my head. Let it piece itself together.

Rebecca, I get most of my inspiration in the shower! Woot! A shower twin!! Wait. That sounds a litte...weird. I'm not weird. Promise. ;-)

Scott said...

I start at the beginning, a very good place to start . . . oh, no I’m channeling the Sound of Music again. Hate it when that happens. Like you – I don’t outline and I don’t plan ahead to far. I sit down with the kernel of an idea and begin writing. At some point, I figure out exactly where I want the story to go. Sometimes, I even surprise myself.

Do I actually start at the beginning? Pretty much. Do I write from beginning to end? For the most part, yes, though there are times when I get an idea for a later chapter. I’ll jot down notes and pull them out when I get to that point in the manuscript. Writing is pretty linear for me. The one thing I do a lot is write out conversations and then stick them in here and there throughout the manuscript.

I truly don’t think there’s one hard and fast rule for writing. I think we all do what works best for us. I don’t write every day. I can go weeks without writing. Does that make me a bad writer? Heck, no. It is just what works for me.

Love the picture of Bag End. Is it ironic that I started reading The Hobbit today? I downloaded it and the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy on my Kindle this morning. Woo-Hoo. Bilbo, the Dwarves and Gandalf have just arrived at Rivendell.

Thanks for the post.

Kat Harris said...

To me, there is nothing scarier than a blank page.

I get over it by simply writing whatever scene is strongest in my mind. Many times, scenes with the same characters don't connect, and that's where the fun is . . .making them connect.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Boy I'm boring. I start at the beginning with an outline. Granted, my map sometimes gets misplaced and I end up taking side routes I hadn't thought about before. But I aways start at the beginning and end at the . . . uh well . . . at the end.

That being said, sometimes, while I'm running or showering, ideas come to mind from parts of the WIP I haven't gotten to yet. But as soon as I can, I jot them down. Yes, I have a lot of smudged notes, but that's okay. As long as I can read them. ;)

Great post, Elana.

WindyA said...

I LOVE this topic. Mostly because I've been told by several people that my "all over the place" methodology is so odd.

I don't think so, but hey, everyone's got their own technique. I actually blogged about this back a while ago:

Sometimes the beginning is at the end and the end is in the middle and the middle is in the middle too. Either way, I'd just run with what works for you.

Horserider said...

I always start at the beginning. Well, actually in my first novel's case, I had a scene for the middle before I had the beginning. Because I didn't want to forget that scene.

But once that was written, I went back and started at the beginning. Many of my stories begin as disjointed scenes that I need to remember, and then I go back to start the beginning.

Very rarely do I have the ending in mind. Most of the time I have no idea how a story will end until I'm past halfway or even until it's written.

beth said...

I just jump right in!

Usually, my stories start with the first lines, so this is fairly easy for me--I've built a whole book out of a first sentence!

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