Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Write by the numbers

I'm reading 4th of July by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro, a novel I received free in a stack of books and probably would not have opened if I hadn't already read every novel published by Hard Case Crime that I had in the house.

4th of July reads like the written equivalent of a paint-by-numbers painting. It has 146 chapters, each about two pages long. If I was guessing, I'd say Patterson wrote 146 sentences and Paetro expanded each sentence into a 500-word chapter.

Because plotting is my biggest weakness, I wondered if I could apply this process to short fiction. I sat with a note pad and a pencil and tried to plot a short story in five to seven sentences, thinking I could then return to the keyboard, expand each sentence into a 500-word scene, and have a complete story.

I began with the following premise: one man, one woman, one crime.

After a considerable amount of time I had four sentences describing only the first two scenes and an itch to start writing.

So I wrote the first two scenes.

And stopped.

What I wrote is great.

What it isn't is a complete story.

I'm facing the same thing I face with nearly every story I write: an idea for a strong opening scene and no idea where to go next. So this one goes into the pile of unfinished stories, waiting until some spark of inspiration or some dogged determination pushes me through the next few scenes and on to the end of the story.

So, as an attempt to change how I write, this experiment proved to be a failure. I fell back into my old habit: get the first scene on paper; worry about the rest later.

Perhaps I just can't write by the numbers...

3 comments:

Cheri` said...

Yeah... why mess with success? The only time I write by the numbers is when I'm writing one of my papers in school:

1 - Introduction: Tell them what you're about to tell them
2 - Tell them your first point
3 - Write about your 2nd point
4 - Write about your 3rd point
5 - Conclusion/Summary: Tell them what you just told them.

I approach the process a lot more creatively than that. But basically that's it... by the numbers.

Story-writing? Yes, it's good to figure out what needs to happen to reach a mind-bending conclusion... but there has to be something to write about first!

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Which is what we used to call teh "five paragraph paper." I don't think it works for fiction.

Kenneth Rapp said...

It's good to know an actually published writer has the same problem I have... I think most of the stories I've started this year have gone into stasis after the first thousand words. Eventually, something bubbles up and I can push it a little further.