Writing Question #2

I’m wondering, do you start at the first page and write each scene in order until the end? I often find I’m inspired to write a certain scene, so I jump ahead to it, which can mean that my events in between don’t end up flowing, so I feel like I’m constantly rewriting scenes and always tell myself, if i would just write from start to finish – in order – maybe this wouldn’t happen. What do you think?

I start at what I think is the first page and go from there. Once I am through the first draft, I ALWAYS wind up moving scenes around and sticking in new scenes and throwing some scenes out. And sometimes I change the opening completely. FEVER 1793 used to have eight additional chapters preceding what is now Chapter One. And TWISTED had a very different opening way back in Draft One.

Sometimes I will see a scene or chapter further in the book than the one sitting in front of me. I do not hesitate to jump to it. You can always write “Chapter Four: Something happens”, then move on to Chapter Five, if, for you really know what you want to put in Chapter Five. But if, as you say, you feel that jumping around interferes with the flow of your story, then experiment with not jumping and see if that helps.

We had my parents over for dinner last night. The dog (formerly known as the Creature With Fangs) gave my mom a massive wet dog kiss. My mom giggled and laughed and looked totally blissed out. So now the dog is the Creature Who Can Do No Wrong. Mom calls her the Granddaughter with Long Ears.

Other things on my to-do list today:
Study picture book manuscript – decide if it can be salvaged.
Follow the men’s Big East tournament.
Think about WIP2 plot issues.
Hang with Stef and Charlotte. (Here’s a link Stef sent me last night for anyone fed up with crazy consumer culture.)
Go to the library!

Writing Question #1

I just wrote a post about how today will be filled with the joys of pulling together my taxes, but I realized it was stupid so I deleted it.

Instead, I’ll dig out one of last month’s writing questions: “How does an idea become a whole story?”

::pause to stare at screen::
::types something:: ::deletes it::
::looks for another question::
::grits teeth and decides to deal with it::

This is a big question. In fact, there have been several books written in response to it. You’ll find a couple here.

Let me try to craft a short answer.

It helps to recognize the limitations of an idea. A watermelon seed in your hand doesn’t do you much good, unless you want to spit it at someone. A watermelon seed planted in well-balanced soil with good drainage at the right time of year, properly watered, weeded, and guarded from bugs and critters, will produce a decent watermelon you can enjoy. Your story idea is that seed – nice to look at, fun to think about. But you need to know going in that turning it into a story or book is going to require Work.

When I have an idea, I first focus on the people related to the idea. PROM, for example. The idea was to explore some issues that surround the ritual of an American prom. I started with the main character, Ashley Hannigan. Decided she would come from a working class family outside Philly, loving, but a little crazy. I spent a couple months thinking about and writing about her character, trying to figure out who she was. When I thought I understood her, I gave her The Big Problem – she hates the prom. Then I complicated it – she is forced to help save it. From there I imagined a series of complications, set-backs, and triumphs.

I don’t want you to think this all just pours out of my brain on to the page. I am not sure how other authors do it, but it tends to be very, very messy for me. Picture a person trying to decorate a room in total darkness. That’s what writing feels like to me a lot of the time. I flail around in confusion and doubt, trying to remember where I put everything. I fall down a lot.

This is why I recommend young writers start with short stories first. Novels can be a real pain – all those people! All that stuff! All those pages! Argh!

When you are writing or revising your story/novel, remember that every scene, every sentence needs to do at least one of two things: either give the reader more information about a character, or move the plot along.

Does that help?

South Carolina weekend

When the sun came up this morning I staggered out of bed. Time has flown since Thursday. What, it’s March? No way!

I took the long way to South Carolina, impeded by the snowstorms that affected Philly and Laguardia. Got in four hours late, but I made it and that was all that counted. I knew I was going to like the community when we passed a Mrs. Smith’s pie factory on the way to the school. If I lived there, I would erect a house of worship next to it.

Mabry Jr. High was wonderful. The kids were very forgiving when I asked them to repeat things fifty times because my dumb Yankee ears struggled with their accents. I took a couple of photos and have stuck them behind the jump. Thank you to librarian Michelle Pope, asst. principal Crystal McSwain, Kelly Wright, and all of the teachers and kids who were so much fun. Friday night I went to a reception for Jamboread where I got to meet luminaries like Spartanburg’s mayor, the library board, etc. I always feel awkward at events like that, but a number of librarians were there as Emergency Conversational Partners and that helped.

Saturday was Jamboread. “What is Jamboread?” you ask. It’s an amazing book festival sponsored by the world-class Spartanburg, SC library system. Four authors, 6,000 book lovers, puppet shows, face painting, and a guy in a mouse costume. Along with Christopher Paul Curtis and me, readers got to listen to illustrator Janet Stevens and Andrew Clements.

I knew the day would rock when I walked into the teen section of the library and found the opening line of SPEAK painted on the wall, along with other notable quotes. Yeah, I puddled up. I wanted to throw myself on Susan, the YA librarian, and sob, but I didn’t want to scare her. I ate breakfast with the winners of a poetry contest. Note to world: Spartanburg is the home to the poets of the next generation. These writers blew me away with their talent. The bagels were good, too. Many thanks to everyone who made the day fly, especially Leslie and Margo.

Random Spartanburg notes:
– The Miss South Carolina pagent was going on and all the participants were staying in my hotel. I saw Miss South Carolina, wearing her crown and surrounded by an adoring throng, getting out of an elevator. I do not understand pagents. Must explore this.
– Grits. Which I am strangely fond of.
– Did I mention who I had breakfast with yesterday?
– This country would be much better off if all mayors supported libraries as much as the Spartanburg mayor does.
– Back to the pagent thing. I lied, I do understand it. I want a crown.

Photographic evidence

Thank you, Mr. Marriott

I’ve been staying in a gorgeous hotel in Spartanburg, SC the last couple of days. The only problem – their Internet wasn’t working which is why I haven’t posted. I have to leave for the airport in 15 minutes, so this will be brief. I promise to catch you up on all the madness and way too much fun of this trip tonight or tomorrow.

A note – if you are trying to send an email to any of the writerlady email addresses and it is being bounced back, please be patient. We are having technical difficulties at Writerlady Enterprises – hope to have them fixed by mid-week.

I will leave you with this visual before I finish restuffing my suitcase. I had breakfast with Christopher Paul Curtis, who is one of my literary heroes. I am still aglow. He is such a nice guy and SUCH an amazing author. I can’t believe it. I think I will tell everyone I meet today: “I had breakfast with Christopher Paul Curtis.” I will say it over and over again just so I can hear the words coming out of my mouth. And it will drive the people sitting next to me on the plane crazy and they will find other seats so I will get to sit alone! Yay! I win!

Talk to you later.


Well, that “week” went fast. I leave again in a couple hours for South Carolina.

Let’s hit the rewind button, shall we? Yesterday… yesterday was a bit of a fog. I planted my rear end in front of the computer from breakfast until 9:30pm. I ate in front of the computer. Drank coffee and tea there, too. Spend all that time doing one last pass through TWISTED, checking for loose ends, stray mistakes, creeping errors. Now it is DONE…. until I hear from the Editress who may want more revisions. Cross your fingers.

Tuesday was a school visit to the schools closest to my house, Mexico Academy Middle School and the High School, in snowy Mexico, NY. Rest of the week and my conference in Washington after the jump