Beginning Without An Ending

The writing process for my latest novel started as an exercise: One short scene told in present tense, third-person objective (wacky challenge woeeohooo!).

The concept came like a painting, hanging in my imagination: I saw a boy humming a tune to himself on a river’s edge, the stars shining overhead, with a girl watching from the shadows of the far bank. I wrote the scene effortlessly, letting my imagination do whatever it wanted; and what it wanted was for a minotaur to come out of the forest to berate the children for being out so late at night.

I had never written in present tense before, and I thought it worked in the piece better than expected, drawing me in over the characters’ shoulders. But a few weeks later, when I reread the story, the story itself drew me in, and led right into another scene. I continued the story in the same experimental way, writing without plotting, world building as little as possible along the way (which is completely out of character for me! I am a world builder at heart!). The writing process had decidedly been to let the story tell itself. I did not understand how the magic in my world worked, and I did not understand what the world was like beyond its dystopian borders. I did not know my characters’ parents until I met them. I wrote more scenes, and then chapters. The project was a completed novella about two months later.

Throughout the writing process I learned, slowly, where the story was going, and when I came to the end I finally knew what it was about. Thus revision was quite difficult and took a long time. I needed to go back and tie everything together, and every time I went back I learned a little bit more about the world, which impacted the story and required ever more revision. It was a messy experiment, and it took a lot of work to clean it up.

The story came to a soft close at 35,000 words, which, after sending out some ill received query letters, I have come to believe is too short a work for an unpublished writer to get an agency’s attention. So I decided that the novella was only the first third of a bigger book, and that for the rest of it I’d need to do some serious plotting, which would require some serious world building.

I’ve just about finished my world building now, and have a much clearer understanding of the history and culture of my dream-like creation. I know of the first generation of gods, and of the second generation, and the third, and I know how they shaped the world into the desolate landscape that my characters were born into. I have loads of wonderful characters and events to draw from, and can begin sketching out the plot for the remainder of the book.

The writing process for the first part of this story was very unique, and I don’t think I would have written anything like it if I had taken the time to build the world up beforehand. I learned a lot from the experiment, and think in the future I will start all of my projects with at least a scene or two, before I jump too deep into the world building.

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