Thursday, May 5, 2011

Where to leave off

Judging from the comments on my last post, I'm not the only writer who needs to crank the engine a bit before starting on the writing journey. To ease the transition into a day's writing session, many writers recommend ending the previous session on a cliffhanger: mid-scene, where you know what's going to happen next. Or even mid-sentence.

I don't do that--at least, I don't do exactly that, because I have a horrible short-term memory. If I'm in the middle of a scene, I know what I want to say next and how to say it. If I stop there, the next day I'll sit around asking myself: What was that perfect phrase I had for the melancholy way in which the heroine sweeps back her hair, just before she breaks her boyfriend's heart? The only words I can think of now are awkward, ill-fitting ... darn it, I had that phrase last night!

But my actual strategy is not that far from the advice. I write to a point where I have no other brilliant (that is, brilliant-seeming at the moment) phrases stored up, where I feel some closure for the scene. Instead of diving into the next scene, even though I know what happens, I'll make a note of where I want to go next--in very specific terms that will call to mind a mental image. I put my note in brackets. (I use brackets in drafts all the time to write notes to myself, or to indicate words that I want to replace later. Brackets are my friend.) (So are parentheses.)

Like so:

[Priscilla steps on Mike's foot]


[Amy reveals Burt's secret, with a fake blush and laugh--"Oh, I didn't mean to say that!" But hint that it's premeditated.]

Then I can start the next writing session with a specific image, something concrete and definite. Sometimes I delete my bracketed idea and end up writing a different scene, because something stewed in my head overnight and changed my plans. That's okay. My bracketed plans are there if I need them.

And speaking of transitions, I'm making a brief temporary one myself. A couple of times a year, I unplug myself from the internet to remind myself what life is like away from the screen. I'll be doing that for the next ten days or so, and I look forward to seeing you all again when I rejoin the digital world. In the meantime, happy writing, happy reading, happy living!


  1. Yep, I do the bracketed ideas too. Or underline things in yellow. oR leave comments to myself. Hope you enjoy your internetless existence. sounds like a good idea.