Beginnings

I started a short story the other day and I have been staring at the blank screen, the proverbial blood beading upon my forehead.

I had this great idea for a murder which would fit into Bouchercon’s call for submissions. I have a set-up. I have the murder. And after that, I have nothing.

Nothing.

I’m not saying I have writer’s block. I’m just saying the story isn’t appearing fully formed in my head.

So I’m slogging my way through a paragraph at a time. I figure I’ll just do stream of consciousness until something magical, like a plot twist, happens. After all, you can’t edit a blank page, right?

I’m pretty sure that my favorite scene has no plot point. Not to worry, when I figure out whodunit, I’ll go back and hide a clue in there.

It’s not this way when I write books. The first 15,000 words just flow out of my fingers before I stall out.

The wise and wickedly funny Laurie R. King spoke at the Book Passage Writers Conference earlier this year. She said when she hits a blank spot, she jumps ahead to a scene she knows will be in the book, writes that and goes back and bridges them together.

So, you’re not really writing at the beginning, you’re starting at the end and working backwards.

I’m currently reading Story Trumps Structure by Steven James. He kind of writes from the middle working back and forward at the same time, after he gets the story started.

I like that idea too.

So, Mysteristas, do you ever abandon a story? What is the upside/downside of slogging your way to the end?

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11 thoughts on “Beginnings”

  1. Yes, I abandon lots of stories, not that I write, but that I read, or rater don’t continue reading. I treasure my reading time, and I don’t want to waste it on a storyline that is not believable, interesting, appealing, or compelling. I want fully developed characters who are reasonably smart, adequately competent, and appropriately knowledgeable. If I haven’t connected with some part of the story after a couple of chapters, I just close the book and move on. (unless it is for a class or for a book club) I accept that not everyone likes the books that I like, and that I do not like all the books that other people love. That is what is so great about books — there is always something for every reader, no matter what. AND there is always another book for me.

  2. 3 no 7 – you are a lot more generous than some I know, who will quit a book after ten pages. 🙂

    A lot of times I’ll get the idea of the middle of a story. Then I have to build out in my head to the beginning and ending – then I can write it. Kind of like Art. But other times, I’ll get a great beginning so I start there. Sometimes a great ending. It really can vary.

    The upside to slogging is your breakthrough might be just around the corner. The downside is you get so twisted up you can’t see straight.

    Hang in there Keenan – you’ll get it!

  3. I’m an obsessive outliner, so I can’t even really wrap my head around what you’re saying! (Not really, our process is very similar, but I do the same thing drafting my outline.) At any rate, you need to remind yourself — like I do — that you’ve done this before. As ridiculous as it seems, you HAVE written a complete manuscript before, and if you’ve done it once, you can do it again, blah, blah, blah. Trust in your process, but if you’re really stuck, change up your process. Write the ending first, or lay on the floor with a big sheet of paper and mind-map your scene … whatever gives you that goose of inspiration. I believe in you!

  4. I usually just start with the part that’s clearest to me. Normally, it’s the beginning. Once, I wrote the final third of a book once. That worked pretty well, but that’s the only time I figured out the end that early on in the process. That’s still my fave book I’ve written, unpublished. I think I might rewrite it for my next project.

  5. Thanks, Art! As I was typing this response, I must have hit the wrong button and inadvertently deleted your comment. I plunked along a little more on the piece and then started making notes at the top: What if? What if? Developing different story lines. Then I walked away and realized who the murder was!

  6. Oh, I can so relate to this. Short stories are easier for me, but I tend to start with some snippet, and then build. The snippet, however, might become the middle, the intro, or be sacrificed completely during editing. And I definitely write out of order. I have a lovely short story that is nearly complete, except I locked myself in my locked room mystery and I can’t seem to find the escape. *sigh* It will come to me, eventually. I don’t know that I’ve given up on any, but there are some accumulating dust, for sure.

  7. Keenan, my process is a lot like what you’re experiencing. I have to write the first draft to figure out what the story is, and then I go back and redraft. I’ve abandoned a lot of stories this way because I never quite figure them out. But the ones that I slog through often take an unexpected twist. Hang in there and good luck!

  8. I’m so glad you’ve got it figured out! (Stream of consciousness usually works for me. Or taking a long walk.)

    FYI, James Scott Bell has a craft book called Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotter, Pantsers and Everyone in Between.

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