Last Things First (Or, Writing Out of Order)
When I first started writing, I was convinced that there were rules to writing. For example, you started writing with a beginning, progressed through the middle, and ended at the end. Sure there were all those high literary works that started in one spot and circled around to the beginning before jumping to the end and then, somehow, returned to the middle. I’m not a high literary writer; I’m still learning my craft. So: beginning, middle, end. Small writing devices—flashbacks, foreshadowing, dreams—were all game, but that was the general flow of the story, and the order in which it should be written.
This was how I wrote Thorn, and the problem I ran into with my approach was that by the time I finally got to writing the end (over the 13 or so revisions I went through), the scenes had gone as stale as year-old Ritz crackers. I finally let myself start a revision with the final chapters, and only after that did my ending begin to come to life.
Then, about five years ago, I started participating in National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). NaNoWriMo changed my perspective on writing straight through my story, from pure necessity. The reason is simple: if you are trying to write a 50,000 word novel draft in the month of November, and you know what happens at the end of your story but not at the beginning, you can’t waste time putzing around with the beginning. You write the first scene you know (in my case, the end), and then you jump to the next scene you know, and the next. You work backwards, sideways, and upside down.
Freed from my mental constraints, I wrote the end of the novel I had chosen to complete for NaNoWriMo. I knew the general arc of the plot, but it was the final scenes that kept playing through my mind. It was all there: fresh, vibrant, begging to be written. This was the kind of writing that makes writers positively vibrate with excitement: you can’t sit still envisioning the fight because you want to jump in and throw a punch; you can’t get the moment-of-despair scene written properly because you keep reaching for tissues. I loved it! Unfortunately (or not?) I loved it so much I never got around to writing the beginning. At 50,000 words, I had an ending, part of a middle and no beginning whatsoever. Oh, I had ideas, I just hadn’t gotten to them.
Then the realization struck me: I’d turned my novel into a trilogy. And I’d written the third novel first. It took me two more NaNoWriMos to draft out the other books of the trilogy, and I’ve found some serious challenges with my process: when you fly by the seat of your plot, trying to get that novel written in 30 wild days, you can’t know all of your characters and plot lines until you’ve written the beginning. This challenge is compounded with trilogies. I’ve discovered how much more vital my writing feels when I write the scene on my mind…and how much more revision that requires since new elements develop at the beginning and through the middle long after I’ve written the end. Now I just have to learn to love revision the way I love writing my first draft.
About The Book
Author: Intisar Khanani
Genre: YA Fantasy
Princess Alyrra’s strength lies in silence. Scorned by her family, she avoids the court, spending her time with servants. When her marriage is unexpectedly arranged with the prince of a powerful neighboring kingdom, Alyrra feels trapped. As the court celebrates her match, dark rumors spread about the unexplained deaths of the women of her new family. Alyrra begins her journey with mounting trepidation. Betrayed while traveling, she seizes an opportunity to start a life away from court.
Walking away from a prince whom she doesn’t know should have been easy. But from the moment she sets eyes on him, Alyrra realizes that her freedom could cost him his life. Without any magical defense of her own, she is plunged into a lethal game of sorcery and deceit. Now Alyrra must decide whom she can trust and what she’s willing to fight for—before her silence proves fatal.
Author’s website: http://www.thornthenovel.com