TGC Review 1: Starting The Writing Process

Last week, you people voted… and were about as split as I was. So, I’ll be doing BOTH: reviewing the course and editing, but at half-speed.

The class is taught by Professor James Hynes, who’s more of a fiction writer than a genre writer, but I don’t hold that against him. Writing is writing and I know I jump genres, myself.

Starting the Writing Process:

Probably not the most necessary for someone who’s up to the editing stage, but as an experienced public speaker and teacher, this was also the high level review of what would be covered by the course itself.

He discussed the anxiety caused by the blank page. [I had the thought that the blue screen might be worse…]

The first thing you’ve got to do is hook the reader- using setting, characters, tone, whatever you can. But how?

Ways to sneak up on the beginning:

  1. The Artistic Question: What’s your big idea? What’s the story about?
  2. The Logistical Question: Who’s telling the story? What verb tense? What voice/tone?
  3. The Psychological Question: Are you ready to commit to the months/years of this?

To answer the artistic question, remember the 5 Ws of Journalism and fill them in:

  1. Who – Main characters, protagonist, antagonists, etc. Who’s the narrator?
  2. What – The inciting incident. The protagonists goals.
  3. When – Age of character, is the story set in the story’s present or past? (invoking hindsight vs immediacy and suspense)
  4. Where – The setting
  5. Why – What’s the character’s motivation? For their goal, for telling their story?

[At this point, the teacher gave an example and mentioned he was a Michigander. I had to giggle and contemplate geese…]

Next up, was the logistical question. He quoted someone and differentiated the story from the plot:

  1. The STORY is the chronological summary of what happened.
  2. The PLOT is the story, with all the causality and motivations added in

One thing people keep telling me at writing lectures is that a good writer starts In Medias Res – in the middle of things. Give the reader action (but not too cliched, don’t start off with a dream) and trickle expose in.  This class was no different, but he went on. NOTHING can truly start at the beginning. Even the Bible’s, “In the beginning” involves a pre-existing character- God. Thus, for anything to happen, things needed to align. Before you were born, your parents had to meet.

[At this point, he said something about how people who don’t outline make it up as they go along. To that, I’d like to comment that even outliners make it up as they go along! They just do the broad strokes and fill in with details later.]

Finally, it’s time to deal with the psychological question!

At this point, you’ve realized that since you’re making it all up, you have SO MANY CHOICES! Many people start to feel panicked at this stage and stall. They do research, clean their desk, wander onto facebook for a few hours…

The solution to being overwhelmed? Remember what you don’t  need to know yet.

  1. You don’t need to know where to start. Just start where you know something happens. You can backfill later, or throw it away if you find out the story starts later.
  2. You don’t need to know where you’re going. Very often, the story will lead you, just find out where it goes. If it’s convoluted? That’s what editing is for.
  3. You don’t need to follow your outline. If you did outline, but it feels too forced, that’s okay. See where the story takes you!
  4. You don’t need to be good to write the rough draft. You can always clean it up in revisions. This is where you find out what happens and who your characters are.

————————————————————————–

ASSIGNMENT: Without thinking too hard about it, try to recall a vivid image you may have seen recently, in real life or on television, and see if you can imagine a story to explain it. You can start with the Faulkner technique: Simply describe the image, such as a mother yelling at her child in the supermarket, then branch off from there, explaining why the mother is so exasperated or why the child is being so difficult. Then try Fitzgerald’s technique with the same image: Outline the life of the mother so far–her girlhood, her courtship, the birth of her child–and work up to the moment in the supermarket. See which approach works best for you.

[Well, as my superpower is justifying just about anything…. I’m pretty sure I’m more of Faulkner’s technique, if not his writing style.]

Note: I decided to keep to the same point of view and not revise my first draft. This is a practice exercise, not necessarily where I want to spend a huge chunk of time.

She was sitting on the tilted bench, half-perched, holding a moderately disappointing half-eaten lamb sausage sandwich. Her grey hair skimmed her shoulders as she tried not to bump into the ladies perched more firmly on the less-tilted bench center. Behind them was the crowded barn, full of fiber booths and eager crafters, all searching for their next project.

The bun holding the lamb sausage was a soggy mess and gave out, exploding vibrant yellow mustard all over her face and plopping onto the front of her beige, sleeveless top.

“Oh, great! Now I look like a slob,” she sighed in frustration.

“Here!” Her daughter spoke up from the ground, carefully seated on the trampled grass hill, between muddy patches. A napkin was being offered.

“Thanks.” In short time, the mustard was cleaned up and lunches were finished.

“Ready to do that last barn?” her daughter hopped up, swinging the green backpack that held their loot back on.

“I think I’ve got one more barn in me,” she replied, carefully making her way back to the path, down the muddy hill towards the trash can. She’d been wanting to make it to this craft fair for years. It wasn’t quite what she’d expected, but that hadn’t kept her from finding some pretty yarn. Looking down at her shirt, she sighed again.

“You can always button your over-shirt,” her daughter suggested.

The top two buttons were done before they took another step. She was glad her daughter had been able to make it. At first, she thought she’d wait another year, because her daughter was in a wedding, but the festival was the first full weekend. She hadn’t wanted to go with the knitter’s group from town. She didn’t know them that well and the sound of leaving in the wee hours of the morning and day-tripping on a bus did not appeal. Her hip wouldn’t like it. Plus, she wasn’t sure she had a full day of shopping in her. Then, her daughter invited her up. She could drive half the way the night before and leave the rest of the driving to her daughter. It was a much better plan and let her share all the patterns she’d been considering with her daughter, and get some suggestions on new projects to try. A perfect way to spend her Mother’s Day weekend.

 

***

 

She’d been wanting to attend the Sheep and Wool festival for years. Her whole knitting group usually took a bus, but she didn’t know them that well. Besides, her daughters were over halfway there. She’d rather visit and split the drive in half.

About a month ago, her youngest called.

“The festival’s the first full weekend of May, not the first weekend. I’m free if you want to go with me!” It wasn’t even a question. As long as the weather cooperated, she’d be there. Plus, it was Mother’s Day weekend and she’d get to see her girls. With any luck, she wouldn’t spend all her money on yarn.

She’d plotted for weeks, scouring Ravelry for patterns–wanting to try new projects. She checked the web, seeing what vendors would be there. Saturday morning came, cold and rainy. The weather report promised it would clear.

So, raincoat clad, they hiked in the noonday chill into the festival. Traveling though the vendor-full barns, she kept her eye out., hoping to find yarn for her projects, watching for her daughter to express interest in a yarn or a pattern that she was capable of replicating.

After two long barns, the promised sun arrived. Rolling up their coats, they stowed them in the backpack her daughter carried, along with the four skeins she’d already found.

“Ready for lunch?” she asked.

“Definitely.”

“It’s a Sheep and Wool festival, let’s go with lamb.”

One lamb sausage and one lamb BBQ sandwich later, and she was precariously perched on the end of a slanted and crowded bench–more leaning than sitting, while her daughter just plopped on a grassy spot on the hill.

Her sausage started off mediocre and the bun was rapidly disintegrating. Not quite what she’d pictured when she ordered. It did explain why that booth had no line, though. She’d tried to cover the disappointment with mustard.

Well, fuck.

“And, your mother just spilled mustard all over herself,” she sighed, self-consciously.

“Here!” her daughter swiftly offered up a napkin and the end of a water bottle.

She started with her shirt and then mopped what she could off her face.

“Do you have another?

“Yep!” She made short work of it, eradicating most of the mustard. With her over-shirt buttoned, the blunder was hidden from sight.

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