SHE WROTE: Beginnings
As Bob said, we'll be talking more and more about the craft of writing because we're writing now. Being a published author means keeping two careers going. One is keeping The Jenny Show or The Bob Show or The Bob and Jenny Show going, which is what we did last week in Hilton Head with the media consultant and then on the road in Cocoa Beach, which is why that was what we were writing about here last week. And the other career is writing which is an entirely different animal, actually the exact opposite of the Show because writing means going inside yourself to find the story while The Show is about going outside yourself to reach other people. And when you're writing in collaboration, you have to be very careful, it's really two porcupines writing, because you don't want to wound each other but you're each trying to write the truth as you see it. You're not just writing, you're writing backwards in high heels. Both of you. Beginnings are a good example of that.
Bob likes prologues. He likes set-ups and infodump and an omniscient voice telling the reader what's going on.
I hate prologues, I think they're the work of the devil. I like starting where the trouble starts, intro your protagonist and then get her in trouble, start the conflict, right off the bat without any infodump or auhorial intrusion. Put the story on the page and let the reader figure things out as she goes, participating in the action.
The trouble with prologues is that they are by definition the stuff that comes before the trouble starts. That's why they're prologues instead of Chapter Ones. But I don't want my reader identifying with the heroine as a child or with the bad guy, I want the first person she encounters to be the character who's going to take her on the ride. When Bob and I write together, there are two first scenes, each introducing a protagonist. No prologue. (Epilogues have the same problem as prologues: they're the stuff that happens after the story is finished. If it's done, it's done, get out while the reader is satisfied. [You can run, but you can't hide, Purinton.]).
So how do you start?
You start with your protagonist in trouble and try to get her into conflict on the first page. Trouble is not the same as conflict. Trouble is she can't pay the electric bill and her dog is sick. Conflict is a struggle; somebody stole her electric bill payment and poisoned her dog and now she's trying to stop him.
We got off on the wrong foot with Don't Look Down for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that we were both in very dark places when we decided to collaborate and the book reflected that. The early Lucy was bitter and angry. The early Wilder was grim. And as for the third POV character, Bob wouldn't even give him a name, just called him "the sniper." His pov scene began with the words "In the darkness, there is death." Yeah, we had a tone problem.
Beyond that, we had a style problem. We wrote the first two scenes as demos so we could see each other characters, and we really didn't think it through. So Lucy began the book straddling the rail of the Talmadge Bridge, which I just saw for the first time last week, and I have to tell you, Lucy would have to be a complete MORON to straddle a rail on a bridge that high. Actually, it turned out she was a moron no matter how high the bridge was because it was just a dumb thing to do. Plus she got on the bridge rail and then bantered. Bitterly. Train wreck, all around. Then the next scene cut to Wilder who pretty much watched everybody and thought things, mostly detailed stuff about guns. Then the next scene was the sniper, and God saying, "In the darkness there is death." So we had a third person llimited bitter dialogue scenes, a third limited thinkin' scene, and an omniscient sniper scene that not only explained how a silencer worked, it killed a cat.
Really, looking back on this, it's a miracle we made it. But Bob and I are nothing if not determined so we rewrote the opening, And rewrote the opening. And rewrote the opening. At least a thousand times. One of those times moved Lucy off the rail and off the bridge entirely, into her camper, driving up the road with her best friend, Gloom, arguing. There was conflict because they were arguing, but it really didn't fool anybody: it wasn't real conflict, it was infodump disguised as conflict. There were other fixes and rewrites and approaches, and I finally just handed it to Bob and said, "I have no idea what to do with this scene. Do something."
So of course, he put in a helicopter. And that did it. Lucy's on the bridge (but NOT on the rail) and this helicopter comes toward her while she's trying to keep peace on the bridge and it lands and J.T. Wilder gets off and the trouble starts. (You can read Chapter One on the website. I don't think it's the latest version, we kept rewriting, but eventually it will be.) And it only took us a year.
But we did learn our lesson. Agnes and the Hitman starts with Agnes in the kitchen when a guy shows up to kill her. Or to kill her dog. We're still working on that. (Bob, I really think he's there to kill her.) And the next scene is Shane in conflict with a guy he's going to kill, during which he gets a phone call that sends him off to meet Agnes. Two scenes of conflict that propel the protagonists together while introducing the antagonist by proxy. Well, it does in Agnes's scene. We'll figure a way to get the antagonist into Shane's scene by proxy, too. As soon as we stop arguing about who the antagonist is. Not arguing. Discussing.
The point is, we've got good openings, and we can rewrite them later when we figure out what the ending is going to be, because the first scene(s) is really the set-up for the last scene. The stuff in between is just how you get from one to the other. So we set up the first scene, finish the book, and then go back and make the first scene foreshadow and echo the last scene.
Which we're supposed to be doing the last week of June. Should be interesting to see if we make it.
I'd talk more about this, but I have to actually write the book now. Plus Bob will want to weigh in about how "In the darkness, there is death" is really a good scene opening and how I callously deleted it about a million times before he gave up and stopped putting it back in a million times, how I'm stifling his creativity, and how he still doesn't know how "the sniper" became Tyler who eats Cheetos in the swamp and watches porn on his laptop. Although I'm telling you now, the laptop porn was not MY idea.
Oh, and don't be surprised if Bob switches from Writing Posts to Show Posts this weekend; he's going to Tucson all by himself. God knows what he'll do there. Probably something involving darkness and death. And beer.
And I'll just sit here in the dark. Alone. Typing.