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In the beginning. . .

I wrote a couple books in my head before I ever put one on paper. And I do mean on paper. The very first time I wrote a "novel" (I am using the term loosely; that's one that will never see the light of day) it was on a typewriter. The second one was on a PC with dual floppy drives (I am seriously giving away my age here). It wasn't until the third book that we had a PC with a hard drive.

But what all my early efforts had in common is they all began at the exact place where my subconscious had started the story. I generally don't outline on paper, although I might make random notes to myself when I get a story idea. But I do plan out the book in my head, often trying out different paths and twists for the story to take. Rarely, at this stage, do I change the beginning because that's what comes to me first— a scene in my head where something is happening to someone.

It was only after I joined a writer's group and took a writing class that I learned to let go of that need to keep the story starting at that point. Yes, the subconscious is a good idea generator, but it should not drive the bus. A writer needs to be in control of the story, even if the characters assert themselves sometimes. I have had characters change on me during the course of writing a book, in ways I had not anticipated. To me that just means they're fleshed out enough in my mind to act like real people. But characters changing is different from control of the narrative itself. I understand now that I need to step back from what my subconscious has served up and assess it. Does the story, in fact, start in a good place? Sometimes even when I don't change the plot, I change where the reader starts seeing the plot. Usually I move it back a page or twenty, but every now and then I realize I need to start sooner.

Now if I could just go back in time and teach myself this when I was sitting in front of that typewriter!

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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 24th, 2010 10:47 am (UTC)
absolutely! good post about your process, says the process hound.
May. 24th, 2010 12:00 pm (UTC)
Experience and wisdom are hard to come by otherwise, Karen. The fact you're learning is a good thing.

If you invent a machine to go back in time to teach this to yourself, would you have listened?
May. 24th, 2010 12:02 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I have a feeling if I actually could go back in time, teaching myself to write better sooner would not even be on the list of things I would do, what with preventing the Kennedy assassination and all.
May. 24th, 2010 01:30 pm (UTC)
It took me a long time to realize that the running starts I always start with were exactly that--running starts. I still do it, but at least now I'm aware of it. I know the first five, ten pages are going to be cut. Without those running starts though, I can't seem to get where I need to go. In the end, it's more efficient to simply do it and cut than try to do it right from the beginning.

Great post, Karen!
May. 24th, 2010 02:42 pm (UTC)
running start-- I like that term! Sort of like, when a photographer takes a picture and he wants the model in motion, he doesn't "snap" until he/she is in the right place!
May. 24th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)
EXACTLY! Perfect analogy.
May. 24th, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
I almost always wind up starting at my original starting point. A sentence pops into my head, I write it down, and that's the beginning of the story. I edit plenty along the way, but the beginning is rarely changed significantly. However, I admit I am very far from a structured writer-- I'm definitely more of the pantser type:-).
May. 24th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
I am a definite pantser -- I never wrote a book from an outline in my life-- but I have found that I need to assess the m.s. once I get it done. I guess what I mean is that my subconscious makes a better writer than an editor.
May. 24th, 2010 07:23 pm (UTC)
'Yes, the subconscious is a good idea generator, but it should not drive the bus.'

If I did a 'Quote of the week', this would be it :)
May. 24th, 2010 07:29 pm (UTC)
Feel free to steal it!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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