I’m teetering on the periphery … wanting to write that first word, that first sentence, that first page and chapter of a new novel, but I just don’t know where to dive in. I know who the protagonist is, his back story (he was a minor character in a previous novel), and what his problem is. I know what his journey has to be in order for him to overcome his problem. I just don’t know how to set that ball rolling.
I heard bestselling author Wally Lamb interviewed recently. The interviewer asked him something about his writing process – I forget exactly what it was – but there was a pause before Lamb replied, “Your question assumes there is a master plan.” He laughed and then said that he doesn’t always know where his writing is going to take him, his stories unfold as he goes along. He acknowledged how different his process is from novelist John Irving who knows exactly what his last line is before he starts writing a novel. Both of these novelists write outstanding books, so clearly there is no one right way to proceed.
My friend, Y/A novelist Diane Tullson writes detailed outlines before she begins a project. She maps out the arc of the story, she can see where the pivotal moments need to be placed for the purpose of pacing and where the protagonist’s ‘cave scene’ needs to take place. Once she starts the story unfolds quickly as she knows exactly where she is going.
I wish I could be so organized in my approach, but I tend to be more like Lamb, discovering the story as I write. I know where I need to end up eventually, but sometimes the route is less straight-forward than I had imagined.
When I teach writing classes I tell my students to start with the crisis, grab the readers attention, then fill in the back story later. This is what I will do, but the back story is so vital to the current story that I will need to use flashbacks, which have to be inserted skilfully to avoid breaking the flow …
Hmm… maybe a little more research is required after all… on using flashbacks effectively…
Doing the research is so much easier than the doing the actual writing.