And when you sit down to start a new story, do you plot out major scenes? (know them ahead of time) Or do you start with an idea and the ‘aha’ moment at the end? In other words, do you know where you’re going when you start? Or do you just start with two characters?
There are a million ways to start a book, and all of them are the right way if they work. My way is the least efficient, so please note, I am NOT recommending the following as a path to follow. It’s a grossly inefficient way of writing a book. It’s just only way I’ve got.
People start talking in my head, sometimes inspired by an idea, a movie, a snatch of conversation, a news story . . . damn near anything, really. Usually, they just wander off and I never think of them again. But sometimes they get interesting and I start writing down some of the dialogue because I love writing dialogue. Actually, I don’t write dialogue, I just write down what the voices in my head are saying; there’s a conversation in my head and I’m doing the transcription.
Then when I get to twenty or thirty thousand words of inane chatting, I start to think there’s a book there and I get serious. Who’s the protagonist? (I usually know that one, didn’t on Faking It.). Who’s the antagonist? (I never know that one.) Who’s the love interest? (I usually know that one, but not always.) What’s the conflict? (What conflict? These are just verbal people.) And answering those questions makes for more conversations; those of you who have seen my first drafts know they’re basically radio plays.
That wandering around and writing down random conversations I hear in my head goes on until I have enough scenes that I go back and put them in chronological order and then keep writing until I have most of the discovery draft done.
Then I step back and go into analytical mode—where’s the conflict, where are the act breaks/turning points, how are those character turning points, too, how does the character arc, and so on, ending with “What is this book about?”
And then I rewrite until I get a complete draft with turning points done, and I take a step back and look at it and see that I wasn’t writing the book I thought I was writing at all, it’s a different book, and the characters have things going on that I missed and need to be deepened, and I go back in and rewrite some more.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
BUT that’s how I have to do it, it’s not the way I’d recommend anybody else do it. Some people can plan their character arcs completely ahead of time which is much more efficient. I have to find my way through the dark first. I think that’s fairly common; Jo Beverley used to say that writing a book was like driving through a fog, you could only see as far as your headlights, and I think that’s true for a lot of us. But there are also a lot of writers like Bob Mayer who map the entire book out first and then write to the map. Much more efficient. I just found out that Rex Stout wrote one draft of all his stories, started at the beginning and went on until he got to the end. I think his pre-planning was massive, but once he started writing, he just wrote the book, no rewriting.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is having a story that you have to tell, that will nag at you if you don’t tell it. It’s the story you must tell that matters, not where or how you start it.
Four years, people.
Really, don’t do it like I do it.