Michaeline: Start with the Windows

A view of the gardens and fountains from the music pavilion out the French doors. Many windows.

Music or books . . . who starts with the windows? And who starts with the basement? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s a new month and a fresh start! I’m still playing around more on my ukulele than I am writing, but writing is always somewhere on my mind. I was goofing around on a jazz blog, and stumbled upon a post where the blogger talks about composing a song. He says:

1. Decide what kind of tune you are aiming for.
2. Choose a structure and a key.
3. Work out a chord progression on which to build. (You might prefer to start by inventing a melody, but for me that would seem like building a house by putting in the windows before laying the foundations.)

Well, I have to tell you, those three tips stopped me in my tracks. I ALWAYS start with the windows! That is to say, I’ve got a character, and I flail around for a conflict or inciting incident, and that naturally leads to another character in opposition to the first.

I figure I can stick the genre on later, and my structures feel organic – they feel like they grow straight from the character.

But then again, I wonder if this is mostly unconscious choice on my part. I’ve read so much across so many genres, and enjoyed a lot of different work, but I would say I write at least 60 percent of my work in fantasy, 30 percent in science fiction, and maybe 10 percent or so in contemporary romance or women’s journey with no overt magic or high tech. I don’t decide what genre I am going to write a new story in – but I definitely know by the time I’ve got three sentences down in a document.

As for structure, I generally go for good ol’ linear structure. I wouldn’t even say I go for a three-act, because I have a terrible time escalating things in longer pieces. Almost always, I start at the beginning, and keep writing until I get to the end. It’s chronological, and I always feel that each development logically stems from the last happening. I am aware of other structures, but I really don’t tend to write with them. (Things like patterned structures, or a funny sort of clothesline structure that has flashbacks or asides hanging off the main clothesline like clean, fresh towels.)

But what really captures my interest is the window into the human soul. Who is this character? What is s/he going to do? Why? I start with the windows.

How about you? Do you lay the foundations first, or try to build something keeping in mind that funny little chimney piece, or the beautiful oak floor in the living room? What would it take for you to try building from a different starting point? Is it even possible?

(Inspiration for this blog post came from “Ivan’s Stomp”, Enjoying Traditional Jazz blog.)

2 thoughts on “Michaeline: Start with the Windows

  1. When I started writing I was very linear. Start at the beginning, move sequentially, escalate, and resolve. Lately though, the story ideas I get are often random scenes. I don’t know if they are the beginning, middle, or end of the story, which means my process is more like solving a jig-saw puzzle than anything else. Currently I have two characters that I’m trying to figure out what to do with. I thought I was at the start of their story, but realized before long that Things Needed to Happen before the scene I had would make sense.

    Writing linearly is more comforting, but the jig-saw puzzle approach seems to result in more creative ideas. Frankly, I’m happy with whatever process gets words on the page at this point.

    • Amen to words on the page. The jig-saw puzzle approach is great, because since we build the pieces, we can also hone (or hack) them off to fit. (-: It’s just a matter of keeping all the pieces organized.

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