08 Jan 2013 28 Comments
My first book is coming out this Friday and although the story is told in chronological order, it didn’t start out that way.
When I began writing Sidewalk Flower, the first scene that came to me was gut wrenching and dark. It was so powerful and for a long time, I thought because of that, it had to be the book’s opening. My thinking was that with such a powerful opening scene, it would be hard to put down. In the business, it was the hook I was sure I needed.
Then I learned from a Savvy Authors Editpalooza workshop that sometimes it’s best to let the scenes happen organically. That way the reader has a chance to build up to that powerful event and experience it as it was meant to happen.
Once I let go of the place I’d originally envisioned for that knock-out scene in Sidewalk Flower and put it where it belonged in the time line, I realized it was absolutely the way things were meant to be.
But, I also learned that by writing that last scene first, it allowed me to get to know my characters more deeply and the rest of the story as well. I believe it was one of the biggest strengths of writing my first book that would become published. Knowing where I was going because I’d already been to the end. So I don’t believe I would change the order in which I wrote the story.
I just finished re-watching one of my favorite movies, Neo Ned, starring Jeremy Renner and Gabrielle Union. (I love the tag line: Love is not a Race) In the DVD Extras, Jeremy talks about the process of getting to know his character in order to be able to play him well. He talks about the order of filming and how one of the first scenes they shot was actually the last scene of the film. So essentially, Jeremy was filming a scene as the final version of Ned. The Ned who has learned his lessons and figured out his path in life. By filming the last scene first, it clicked for Jeremy in a way that made him feel like “Ah, now I know this guy.”
Sometimes I worry that by knowing too much about a character, I may do a disservice to the story’s flow. As a writer, I don’t want my knowledge of the character to seep into the reader’s experience too early. I believe Tim Boughn, the writer of Neo Ned, did a great job of allowing his story to unfold at exactly the right pace. It’s nice when the story comes to you in order, but sometimes when you sit down to type it all out, you have to go with what’s most passionate to you in that moment. And that magic doesn’t always happen in chronological order.
My step mom once told me she always reads the ending of a book first because she wants to know how things turn out for the characters, that way she can go back to the beginning and enjoy their story.
We all have our special ways of getting from the beginning to the end. To quote Ned Nelson as he longingly joins his father in prison and sits down to a game of cards at the very end of the movie, “I’m an American hero. Deal me in.” Now, you may know the movie’s ending, but I guarantee you, the story is so good, you’re gonna want to see it from the beginning.
I’d really love to know how you feel about starting at the end?