Jump Forward

I was stuck for a couple of days.

Finally gave up and went for my walk without my laptop and of course the answer came to me. Hurried back to my car, quickly drove home, and wrote one of the two chapters I conceptualized.

The answer was to Jump Forward to where action is happening. It had been intended as a set-up chapter, where a POV character is responding to events. It was terribly boring. So I ditched all that and went directly to where things change.

Jump Forward.

That's probably a pretty good rule for writing altogether. Skip all the explanations, set-up, meandering character development. Because all of those things can be done within the action if you're clever enough.

For most of my books I've struggled with the first 50 pages. I discover my stories by writing them. I've tried to outline but I just can't seem to do it. In fact, most of the time I don't really understand the book until I've finished the first draft. That's why I don't interrupt myself with second-guessing when I write a first draft. I immerse myself in the story and finish it, and only then do I look back and see what I'm missing or what I'm doing too much of.

The pattern that seems to be developing is that I write the first 50 pages and then the story kicks in. So that's probably where the story should start. But I have just enough set-up on the first 50 pages to be unable to shed them. I can usually cut a good 30%, but it is usually pretty unsatisfying, both because it isn't a perfect solution and at the same time I'm cutting stuff I like.

So what I need to do is figure out those first 50 pages in advance,  jump forward to where the action really starts.

Jump forward, then jump forward again. And again. Action scene followed by action scene, always progressing toward the end of the story.

There is one trick I've learned. Write as fast as I can to the ending, and then go back and add elements that are missing.

Some books the beginning works, but the ending doesn't. Or the ending works, but the beginning doesn't. Or the beginning and ending works, but the middle doesn't work. Everyone once in a while all three work, but it's rare.

Linda and I are coloring mandalas at night when we're watching TV. So what happens is that you try to guess which colors will work well together, and sometimes you get them right and sometimes you don't but once you've chosen the colors you really can't do anything about it.

The point is no amount of experience can keep you from guessing wrong. Each mandala is intricate and different. So there isn't a point at which you can eliminate mistakes because there is always an element of guesswork.

To extend the analogy,  each time I start a book, no matter how much experience I bring to it, there is a certain amount of guesswork, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. There is a steady progression in writing ability that isn't necessarily reflected in a steady progression of story quality. Some of my very early books are probably better than some of my later books, and it was simply a matter of hitting on the right subject in the right way.