Sunday, October 21, 2012

My "Jigsaw Puzzle" theory of fiction writing

Last time, I said I'd tell you about a technique I used to write "The Ogre King and the Piemaker" in about half the time I normally need for a short story. When I discussed it quite some time ago in the OTP  newsletter, I called it "Write the beginning last." Now, I'm calling it "Write the story in pieces."

All along, I knew the ogres were going to end up with pies of some kind, but I wasn't sure how. And I wasn't sure what the piemaker had done to draw the attention of the ogres. All I knew was, the Ogre King was going to try a bunch of really stupid tricks and traps to get the piemaker to surrender pies. 

The first scene that came to mind—the inspiration for the story, in fact— was the huge ogre hiding behind a tree that was much too small to hide him effectively, and a little girl would see him. The girl would call out, "Grampa! The ogre's back!" And the ogre would panic, then think: Wait! Maybe she means some other ogre!

That was all I had. So I typed it into a document called "Ogre and Pie Man story pieces" and left it alone until I thought of another scene: a catapult that was too big to move through a tunnel it had to be moved through. I thought, wouldn't it be funny if the Ogre King, who's not that bright himself, had to explain the problem to an even dumber ogre? So I wrote a funny scene, much of which ended up getting cut, as I discussed last time, because I decided the Ogre King wasn't the right kind of dumb in it. 

I wrote a bunch of middle sections of this story, then I wrote the beginning, then I wrote the ending. Then I went back and rewrote the beginning from scratch because my first attempt read like notes to myself about what the beginning had to do, as opposed to a real story beginning. Then I revised some middle pieces, got the ending in place, and on my test reader's advice, expanded a couple of jokes into scenes of their own. Then I got down to serious prose polishing, reading the story aloud and revising any time I found a sentence that sounded clunky.

The point is, I did not make any attempt to write a first draft beginning to middle to end. I wrote the parts I liked best, first. It doesn't matter that a couple of those parts ended up being thrown out. That'll happen. 

So I'm calling this technique my "Jigsaw Puzzle" theory of story writing. First you write a bunch of separate pieces, then you work to connect them. Almost always, some of them won't fit. But in the process of writing these scenes, you'll get a much better sense of what your story is about. During revision, I aim to connect the pieces so well that no one can tell the story wasn't written with the whole story in mind from the start.

The alternative method, writing a complete draft beginning to end, makes me spend a lot more time getting stuck. I think of a good beginning, but not a good second scene, even though I know the fourth scene by heart because I've imagined it so many times. But I won't write the fourth scene until I get the second and third. No more! Now I write the parts I know and build around them. For me, that's so much faster, I can't believe I used to think you had to write stories any other way.

Do any of you write that way? How does it work for you? If you don't write this way, what does work for you?

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like the way I've always written. Scenes and characters come into my head and eventually they get linked into some kind of story structure.