Paula’s Post #73 — This week, we 5writers are focused on New Beginnings, starting with a post of that title from 5writer colleague Joe, who kicked things off by asking the not exactly rhetorical question:”
“How do you begin writing a novel?”
By his own admission, in Joe’s world, (and perhaps universally amongst writers), this can be a daunting and frightening task:
For anyone who’s ever written anything, you know there are 2 scary moments. One is when you actually have to pitch the story to someone or explain to people at a party what you do and what you’re writing. “So, yeah, like I’m a writer and I’m writing a novel about a space vampire who dismembers virgins with laser beams implanted in his penis and…” Yeah. People usually walk away at this point.
The other is to stare at a blank page and come up with something amazing. Something someone will want to read (no, HAVE to read). Something vaguely original.
The blank page.
That’s exactly where we 5writers are this week: staring at the blank page.
Staring at blank pages, contemplating new beginnings. Trying to figure out, where exactly, to start our new novels? Like the famous quotation attributed to Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, “it’s like deja vu all over again”.
Because we each faced this same dilemma at the start of our 5writers challenge back in September 2012, when we kicked off this blog amidst our challenge, to ourselves, to each try to write an entire novel in 5months, and blog about it while doing so.
Ah, that seems so long ago now.
But there are other famous Yogisms, as they are now colloquially known. Off beat tidbits of wisdom that make one ponder whether old Yogi might have been a closeted novelist, so closely to they hit home. To wit:
If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up somewhere else.
I knew I was going to take the wrong train, so I left early.
Just think about that a minute. While many consider these vintage Yogi nuggets, malapropisms, for me, and many like me, they hold a deeper truth: if you don’t take care at the beginning of your novel, you’ve little hope of making it to the end.
At least to the end you’ve dreamt about and worked toward for months and months (if not years and years).
So, it is with this in mind that I confess that despite my good intentions, despite having become a reluctant fan of outlining… I’m not working from an outline on my just started novel, set in 19th century Scotland.
I can hear the gasps resonate through cyberspace, even from here. And don’t think I don’t see you shaking your heads, too. And clucking, I’m pretty sure I can hear clucking, – an ominous amount of clucking.
But as Silk noted in her post of Monday: New Tacks for Old Dogs:
There’s nothing like staring at that blank white page, as Joe said in his post “A new beginning”, to scare the bejesus out of you. And there’s no place to go for the words to fill that page but your own brain. When it comes to writing a novel, every writer is a singlehander out on the ocean by themselves.
How true: “no place to go for words to fill the pages but your own brain”.
But our brains are wondrous cauldrons full of inspiration and of ideas, so much more than the bits of cells and synapses that make up the whole, (okay, okay, I hear you – and I know that synapses are made up of cells too – sheesh, is it my fault I’m a bit weak when it comes to anatomy)?
But let me step back a bit and try to explain why I’m not outlining. The novel I’ve decided to write, my new novel set on the Isle of Skye, (or more precisely about characters who leave the Isle of Skye for the far flung corners of the earth) is, to be sure, a work of fiction.
But this work of fiction is inspired by my own family history and the trials (literally) and tribulations of my great-great-great-grandmother, Merion.
In the weeks to come, I may share with you parts of her remarkable story (if you want the whole story, you’ll have to read my book, – once it is done of course).
In the meantime, I’m not using an outline…
I’m not using an outline, at the beginning, because I know where the story starts. Sort of. I know who the principal characters are and I know where they will be going, and even how they will get there.
This doesn’t mean that, at some point down the road, I won’t need to start working from an outline. I will. I’ll need an outline to keep all the details straight, and also to capture all the dramatic story ‘beats’. Because just telling the story, in chronological fashion, may not make a good story.
As 5writer colleague Silk also reminded us last week, fiction is not like reality.
So, for me, starting my new story involves a two-step process.
Step one: ‘telling’ the story to myself. This is the first part of a two-part creative exercise. In ‘step one’ I’m imagining the ‘backstory’ to real historical events that are documented in my family’s history. I know ‘what’ happened, but not ‘why’ it happened, or how the principal actors/characters felt about their world, why they did what they did, much less the reactions of those around them. I know roughly where they lived, but not the details that make good literature: in other words, since I haven’t yet been to Skye, I have to use the internet to ‘see’ what my characters would have seen from the threshold of their cottage, just as I must use my imagination to discern what they must have smelled, how they must have felt and all they must have experienced, through use of their 5 senses.
So, with my historical novel, perhaps uniquely, I am starting out by ‘telling’ myself bits of the story, so I can get the details right. Later, once I have a feel for the characters, )and the world they live in, and how they get along with the other characters in the novel, I’ll be able to go back and craft an outline. That is step two.
But I’m not there yet. I do not know enough to even start. I need to get to know my characters first.
First I must learn a bit more about my characters, and about the Isle of Skye.
I’ll have more to say about that in my next post, but for now, it is back to my unpacking, for we are still surrounded by chaos from our recent move (no quiet writing room yet).
Movers at the house this week: Five (3 that unloaded all our furniture and boxes – two more that had to come back a day later with the missing hardware to put the bed together).
Ferries taken this week: Two (I’m loving my time with out internet, all my best manuscript editing has been on the ferry, my car my new ‘writing room’.)
Seaside Pubs visited this week: One
Islands Sailed Around: Zero (over to you, Silk)
Kayaks lusted after this week: Two. Anyone know anything about a Wilderness ‘Pungo’?
Boxes unpacked this week: Hmm…maybe don’t ask. Oh, and no kidding, I can’t find my pots. You know, saucepans. If you’ve seen them, let me know.
Oh, and if you want a few more ‘Yogisms’ to brighten your day, check out the quotes below.
90% of short putts don’t go in. — Yogi Berra
A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore. — Yogi Berra
Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours. — Yogi Berra
Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical — Yogi Berra
Congratulations. I knew the record would stand until it was broken. — Yogi Berra
Don’t get me right, I’m just asking! — Yogi Berra
How can you think and hit at the same time? — Yogi Berra
I couldn’t tell if the streaker was a man or a woman because it had a bag on it’s head. — Yogi Berra
I knew I was going to take the wrong train, so I left early. — Yogi Berra
I really didn’t say everything I said. — Yogi Berra
I usually take a two hour nap from 1 to 4. — Yogi Berra
I want to thank all those who made this night necessary. — Yogi Berra
I wish I had an answer to that, because I’m tired of answering that question. — Yogi Berra
If I didn’t wake up I’d still be sleeping. — Yogi Berra
If the people don’t want to come out to the park, nobody’s gonna stop them. — Yogi Berra
If the world were perfect it wouldn’t be. — Yogi Berra
If you ask me a question I don’t know I’m not going to answer. — Yogi Berra
If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him. — Yogi Berra
If you come to a fork in the road, take it. — Yogi Berra
I’m as red as a sheet. — Yogi Berra
In baseball, you don’t know nothin’. — Yogi Berra
Interviewer: “Why, you’re a fatalist !” Yogi Berra: “You mean I save postage stamps ? Not me.”
It ain’t over ’till it’s over. — Yogi Berra
It gets late early out here. — Yogi Berra
It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much. — Yogi Berra
It’s like deja-vu, all over again. — Yogi Berra
It’s never happened in World Series history, and it hasn’t happened since. — Yogi Berra
It’s not too far, it just seems like it is. — Yogi Berra
Little League baseball is a good thing ’cause it keeps the parents off the streets and it keeps the kids out of the house! — Yogi Berra
Mrs. Lindsay: “You certainly look cool.” Yogi Berra: “Thanks, you don’t look so hot yourself.”
Never answer an anonymous letter. — Yogi Berra
Ninety percent of the game is half mental. — Yogi Berra
Pair up in threes. — Yogi Berra
People don’t go there anymore. It’s too crowded. — Yogi Berra
Phil Rizzuto: “Hey Yogi I think we’re lost.” Yogi Berra: “Yeah, but we’re making great time!”
Slump? I ain’t in no slump… I just ain’t hitting. — Yogi Berra
The future ain’t what it use to be. — Yogi Berra
The only reason I need these gloves is cause of my hands. — Yogi Berra
The other team could make trouble for us if they win. — Yogi Berra
Tom Seaver: “Hey, Yogi, what time is it?” Yogi Berra: “You mean now?”
We have a good time together, even when we’re not together. — Yogi Berra
We have deep depth. — Yogi Berra
We made too many wrong mistakes. — Yogi Berra
We were overwhelming underdogs. — Yogi Berra
We’re lost but we’re makin’ good time. — Yogi Berra
Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel. — Yogi Berra
Yogi Berra on seeing a Steve McQueen movie: “He must have made that before he died”
You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six. — Yogi Berra
You can observe a lot just by watchin’. — Yogi Berra
You got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there. — Yogi Berra