Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bass-Ackwards

I have never been able to mold myself to fit an ideal. In anything. Even when I'm trying. Even when it really really means a lot to me to be able to progress through something in order, from start to finish.About the only thing I can do is remember that undies go inside the pants.

So it shouldn't surprise me when I find that the second half of my WIP is in much better shape than the first. In fact, it's a different story altogether. In the middle of the story, the characters begin working towards a brand new goal with completely different motivations. What in the world was I thinking?

I was thinking bass-ackwards is what. Or rather, backstory-ackwards. Beginnings are one of the hardest elements of storycrafting, but they're one of the most significant as well. Beginnings are what hooks your reader, both to your characters and to you as a writer. If you can't intrigue them, tempt them to keep reading rather than put the story down and watch TV, surf the internet, or pick up another author, then your story sits untold.

So now that I have an ending--or a middle and an ending--in draft form, in order to start revisions and turn this thing from a giant literary sudoku puzzle into a coherent story, I need a beginning. Noodling out the beginning can take as much time as noodling out an entire draft, for me. But once I have that beginning...it's like the wheels are greased, the nosecone is pointed downhill, and the brakes are off and I'm gone, baby. Without that beginning nailed and solid, turning the rest of the slush into a margarita of a story just won't happen.

Beginnings are also one of the easiest parts of the story to screw up. Thousands of writers--self included--begin tens of thousands of stories in the wrong place. We confuse beginning with backstory. We spend too much time and too many words in the ordinary world of the hero's journey. Sometimes it's because we need to do that as writers, in order to understand our characters and the universe in which they live. And after we've answered those questions for ourselves, it's our duty as writers to excise it and start the story where the story really starts.

Ironically, that's often the last step of my revising process. I told you I have it bass-ackwards. Now if you'll excuse me...I have to go take my shorts off to put my underwear back on...

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