Friday, June 5, 2009

I Have a Confession...

So, retreat last weekend. I had my goals somewhat mapped out – work on Gillian and Mac’s story. But as I opened my laptop on Thursday afternoon, after letting Muse pick out the room and then rearranging (ask The Husband how many times I rearrange the living room), I faced the same issues I’ve been struggling with for over a year. Great, just great!

My friend Artie, an elementary teacher, tells her students during writing time that if they can’t think of anything to write (believe me, you hear that a lot) then write I don’t know what to write over and over again. 99% of the students who play the whiney card usually get so bored writing that phrase over and over they eventually start to write. The other 1%, well, there’s always got to be the stubborn amongst the masses. Remembering Artie’s advice to her students, I opened a new document and started to type.

I soon morphed into writing about my story, creating a bullet document on possible conflicts. I wrote a paragraph about the setting. Then I started to ‘discuss’ the ending. I’ve been working on this thing for so long, trying to move forward, get to the end – the end that I’ve imagined for as long as I’ve known these characters. It was at that point that something happened. Something clicked. Why not write the end?

Over on Erika’s blog (great discussion - you should read it), I commented on her post about how writers write. I told her about how I’d read about some authors write scenes out of order, some even write the ending first. Sitting in that sparse room, with only my writing stuff surrounding me, I realized that this ending could be the problem. I needed to heed my own comment. I needed to get it out of my head. I needed to write it!

And then I thought of something else…

Now, before I tell you my epiphany, I need you to promise that you will not send hate mail. You won’t berate me in the comment section. And you won’t blacklist me for what I’m about to confess. Promise?

With every book I read I jump to the last chapter right after I finish the first chapter! Remember, you promised.

Whenever I spill my dirty little secret, people yell at me. Call me crazy. And I try to explain. The last chapter gives me the means to figure out how the author gets from the beginning – I try to see the twists and turns and how it relates to the ending. I’ve been an ‘End Reader’ for as long as I can remember. And I can’t stop (believe me, I’ve tried).

So, if that’s how I read – and reading is tied closely to writing – why wouldn’t I write that way? Usually when my characters come to me, they bring with them the black moment – the moment where everything seems lost, where the heroine’s goal seems unattainable. The point in the story where all plot points come together in a big bang. At retreat, I realized I’ve been carrying around this ending, this climax, while the story remains unfinished.

I closed the computer. If I was going to write the end first, then I wanted to do it on paper. I didn’t open the laptop up for the rest of the weekend. The pen scratched quickly and messily across the paper as I spewed out the final big scene of Gillian and Mac’s story just as I had envisioned it. I kept my sticky notepad handy to scribble notes at various points when I discovered a character quirk or a subplot that should be layered in earlier. And things happened I didn’t see coming. I was thrilled to be writing.

Then, even though my hand was cramped, I wrote the happily ever after ending – the part where everything has been tied up in a nice, neat bow with the exception of my hero and heroine’s final confession of love. More sticky notes were used, more ‘aha’ moments were discovered. And the story that has stymied me for too many months finally started to gel. The story took on the excitement of the first time Gillian and Mac came to me and I couldn’t write the beginning fast enough. And for the first time in a long time, I felt like a writer again.

When I got back home and started working on this blog, I went to my good friend Google and did some research. There are some great articles on writing the end first and writing scenes out of order. However, it was this article that really impressed me. Written by Don Vasicek, (writer, filmmaker, consultant), the gist of the piece is that the end is the defining moment. And when you know the end, plot lines and foreshadowing become clearer. I can attest to that. Now that the end is on paper (knowing that it may change), I can go back and work through the middle – layering in the subplots, the hints, the red herrings as I move toward that big finale. Perhaps this is the cure to sagging middles – besides exercise, which is highly overrated.

I’ll leave you with this quote by Joseph Finder: "A great ending is second only to a great beginning."

So, People of Blogland, have you ever written a story out of order? Do you see merit in the process? How many of you read the end of books after you’ve read the first chapter and then spend the rest of the time figuring out how the author gets there? Any writing epiphanies you’d like to share?



Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Janet, woo hoo on your breakthrough!

I always read from front to back and no jumping in between or skipping to the last page.

However, I have written my story out of order when I had a clear picture of the 'black moment' and HEA but was stuck in the middle.

Loved your post.

Janet C. said...

I love hearing about how other writers write. I think it's the creative differences that intrigue me - the way the brain works.

From all I've read, there is no right or wrong, black or white - and it's up to the individual to find a method that works for them.

Thanks for stopping in before you went to bed, Anita - I know how busy your are :)

Yunaleska said...

The thought of writing a story out of sequence brings me out in a cold sweat. I have to do it in order.

I can understand how its useful for some...but um not me.

Yup....i'll read a few chapters, read the end to see if the characters i like die, then carry on reading. It is a skim read of the end, which doesn't seem quite so bad and often i'm like 'huh' at what's there.

Silver James said...

Congrats on the breakthrough, Janet! You go, girl!

I usually write from start to finish, though I have an idea of where I'm going. This is especially true in the romantic suspense novels I write. However, the ending is more like a spot on a map--flat, one-dimensional, and simply a place to get to. By the time I get there, I've filled in all the details and it's like walking into your hotel at the end of a long road trip.

I have one book that was written in "fits and starts", though it isn't finished. I was under the NaNoWriMo deadline and when I'd get blocked on one section, I'd jump to another. I have just over 50K words of...jigsaw puzzle. LOL. One of these days, I'll go back and fix it. (Especially if I sell SEASON OF THE WITCH as it's the 2nd book in the Penumbra series.)

Jumping to the back, huh? I tend to do that if I'm reading a book that just isn't doing it for me. If the ending grabs me, I'll plow through the book. If it doesn't, I quit reading and go on to something more interesting.

Great post! Break time is over. I'm back to proofing. Later gators!

Janet C. said...

Hey, Yuna! Glad to hear from another 'End Reader'. I love those 'huh?' endings - I know the book is going to be that more complex in its execution and rub my hands together in glee at trying to figure out what the author's going to do.

And I think that a writer writes - whatever works for them (like I said to Anita). Nice to see you today, Yuna :)

Janet C. said...

Silver! Anyone who hasn't been to Silver's blog needs to know that she got her galleys for Faerie Fate today. WOO HOO!

I wrote Lady Bells that way, Silver. Right through, do not stop, do not pass go - obviously not collecting any stinking money yet! But the story had been with me for so long - constantly retold in my head before I wrote it down. And then the revisions that had to be done - because the ending wasn't right. Anyway - I wonder if every book I'll attempt will have to be written differently? I'm a person who needs change (see furniture arranging in post - and the moves across the country every 4 to 6 years).

I'll take Gillian and Mac's story any way I can - I need to finish it before it drives me nuts.

Good luck with proofing :)

Karyn Good said...

I will admit to skipping ahead a few pages when reading but only if I'm bored. If I get to that point I know it's time to put the book down and come back later.

I have thought of writing the black moment out of sequence. It's coming together in my head and maybe it's time to sift through the post it notes and put it down on paper. I even have black moment music loaded on my ipod. Sad I know.

Janet C. said...

Wow, Karyn, you're organized. Perhaps when you're sitting staring at the blank screen, you should try writing the black moment. I know I can't believe howing freeing it's been. Now, my thoughts are centered on the true antagonist (I waffled about who that would be) and ideas are flowing on how I'm going to provide subtle clues and provide a solid red herring.

Of course, you know who your villian is - but this may give you opportunities to layer in depth to all of your characters as they move toward that darkest moment.

Besides, it's like the index cards - it gets it out of your head AND it's not set in stone. A means to get where we need to go :)

Hayley E. Lavik said...

I'm reminded again of that quote I found through Neil Gaiman and posted on the SRW blog during the blitz: you never learn how to write a novel, you just learn how to write the novel that you're writing.

I haven't tried writing out of sequence, but as I said at retreat I'm sort of like a stage director.. in that I end up with a lot of little scenes ready to go on at a moment's notice. The black moment is nigh fully formed (I just don't know precisely how on earth she'll get out of it) and ready to be put down, as is the denouement. The climax hinges a little more on how the rest of the writing falls out, but I know how everything will wrap up. I could do it, if I needed to.

I tend to mull things over on the long drives, and my brain often gravitates back to certain scenes (as above), so I narrate them through in my head and iron things out a little each time. I don't think I'd want to write them though, because anything that comes previously could end up altering the tone and such... not that they wouldn't adjust in edits anyway, but somehow that feels like less work. If I get stuck again though, I may stop and make notes on the ending to see where I want the characters to be.

I don't like skipping around in books, so I fought down my outraged cry at your confession ;) Seriously though, in highschool one of my best english teachers told us we should skip to the last page of every book we study, so we know where it's going to go. Then we can look for that development through the whole book, rather than having to reread. It's a good approach, especially when you're studying craft. And I will have to keep that in mind, that a portion of my readers will know the ending as they go in.

From a romance perspective I'm curious what specifically you look for in that last chapter when you check? The type of ending is assured, so is it the details of how they've changed as compared to that first chapter?

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Hey, Janet, we're right in step once again! I do read book endings, in fact, I skip all over sometimes and get myself confused. If I read straight through to get to the ending I do it too quickly; I only want to know how it comes out. If I know how it comes out I can slow down and savour the writing and the story.

As for writing, I do it the same way. I write episodically, not as much as I used to but I still do. I write whatever scene grips me on a particular day. If it's the ending fine, a positive scene great, a tear-jerker (I always do them on a bad day--very cathartic)

So at least we're in good company--each other's. And yeah, I've had the outrage about reading out of sequence. People tend to be more lenient about writing eccentricities I think.

Jana Richards said...

Hey Janet,
First of all, let me say again how thrilled I am that your writing is flowing again! Wonderful! You are too good a writer to not write.

If I'm reading for enjoyment, I don't skip to the end. But if I'm studying a book, maybe after I've already read it once, I might skip around to figure out what the author is doing to make the book work so well. Generally I write from beginning to end, but like Lesley-Anne said, if one scene isn't working for me on a particular day, I'll skip to another, more cooperative scene. And once I have a first draft, I always find that I've missed scenes and need to add them here and there.

Like you said, there's no one way to write a book. And I think each book is different as well. If writing the ending is working for you on this book, I say go for it!


Janet C. said...

Hey, Hayley. It was good to hear that someone had to suppress a cry of outrage at my confession - wouldn't be the same if no one balked at my disclosure. And I'm glad to hear an English teacher would approve (my English teacher in high school had a bird).

Like I said to Silver, Lady Bells basically wrote itself. I would imagine scenes, create new characters, go over dialogue all in my head. When it was time to write, I just laid it down. Of course, major changes in revisions/subsequent drafts.

I'm hoping that your concern about creating an ending that could possibly be a waste of time and energy doesn't happen. As of right now, I feel good going forward - or is that backward? - time will tell.

The ending - last chapter - yeah, I know it'll end up with the HEA, but I don't know what kind of character growth will take place. And sometimes that end chapter gives me a bigger clue about the character flaw and goals than the first chapter did. And then I can spot the clues as to the H/H making headway in their personal happily ever afters.

Yunaleska said...

:) *grins* I like it here :)

Janet C. said...

Hey, Lesley-Anne. We should do a family tree, perhaps somewhere along the line we're related :)

You nailed it - I want to savour the book, the writing, the hero and heroine, their story, their personal stories. Perfectly said. I can plow through a book in a sitting - and very rarely re-read. Reading the last chapter first gives me the opportunity to slow down and really enjoy the book.

I knew that you wrote episodically - I'm hoping my attempt at this works because I really don't want to abandon Gillian and Mac. And you're not calling us eccentric, are you?

Ban said...

missed you janet ! glad you're back though i'm sure you wish you were still on retreat. i admit, i cringed at your confession but only a bit because ... i've jumped forward in books before too - i've never read a full end chapter but i've flipped through pages looking for favorite characters etc. your reasoning makes sense though, esp. in light of hayley's comment - perhaps i should try that with the next book i read, see if it gives me some insight into the writing of the book.

Janet C. said...

Thank you, Jana - Captain Achiever needs to give me a pep talk everyday (or I just need to talk to my friends - thanks).

I'm worried that I'll miss something, too. But I think now that I have the black moment, the HEA, and the section leading up to the black moment, I'll go back to where I left off (the point you left off, too) and see if I can write from there. Move toward the work I've just finished. Right now, I'm figuring out my antagonist's angle - his motivations, reasons, and background. As with Lady Bells (where my antagonist was a woman), I'm liking my choice of the bad guy. Mwahahaha :)

I hope you're back on track with Bridget's story. I may have to impose some deadlines :)

Janet C. said...

Hey, Yuna, you're back. Yeah, I really like it here, too. I love the discussion that takes place. Most Fridays I end up sitting at night and re-reading comments and then making notes in my writing journal. There's usually a couple of aha moments.

Janet C. said...

ban! I would love to still be on retreat. There's something to be said about simple surroundings, sparse furnishings, peace, quiet - and, of course, a building full of people who are all striving to be better writers. Our goals may differ, but our dream of publication is the same. That fuels the creativity!

Let me know how you get on reading a last chapter. I'm interested in hearing how a non-'End Reader' feels after reading the last chapter. I hope you get something out of the adventure :)

Silver James said...

I'm waiting for Gillian and Mac's story, too!

As far as I'm concerned, whatever it takes to get words to actually form sentences, the sentences paragraphs, and the paragraphs chapters is a good thing.

As an inveterate "edit as I go" writer, my focus now is learning to get the first draft done and then going back to put all the story's ducks in a row--like POV shifts and continuity and such critters as that. At the moment, though, I've unleased Evil Editor to find the typos in the proof galley. Back to work....

Ban said...

forgot to mention - i write out of order all the time. dreams , scenes and dialog come at me left and right with no care for continuity; if i don't write them down, i forget them. (even though most will never find their way into the actual 'story')

Janet C. said...

Hope it's going well, Silver. EE is jealous - wants to know when he can by 'unleashed'. I think Muse and I might be a little afraid of that release!

Whatever it takes - good motto :)

Janet C. said...

And you reiterate a good point, ban. Don't get too attached to anything because it could end up on the cutting room floor. (I picture Silver's Ify running with those gigantic scissors :)

connie said...

Whew! I can come out of the closet. Yes I read endings after a few chapters and sometimes that when I close the book period.
Right now, I have a second to the last chapter, a black moment and a few chapters for somewhere near the beginning but usually, I just write through from start to finish and then delay, delay, delay revisions.
Great post. Some new thoughts for me to chew over.

Janet C. said...

Yes, Connie, I have discovered there are a lot more 'End Readers' than I had thought.

Good luck with the revisions - I happen to love revisions! It means I've finished the manuscript - very important in the goal to move forward.

Laurie J. Edwards said...

I always write my beginning, then the ending. Then I write scenes that strike me. Finally, I go back through and add the transitions.