Thursday, July 20, 2006

the first eighty pages

It's never fifty. It's never one hundred. It's always eighty.

The first eighty pages are the toughest for me. They take the longest to write, and they require the most false starts.
You are introducing characters, weaving in backstory while moving newborns through the plot. For some reason it always seems to take me about eighty pages to get most of the backstory down and get the players introduced.

It's also a little like that period when you first meet somebody and start hanging out. You have an idea of what this new friend is like, but that perception can drastically change over the next several months. This is also why I don't get too hung up on those first eighty pages because I know the characters will grow as I write. Once the book is done I'll go back to those pages and realize the character will no longer respond the way the scene was written because I know that person so much better now. When I wrote those early scenes, we'd just met. Now we've been living together for at least six months. Maybe much longer. I don't have a solid grasp of my characters until I've watched them in a few scenes. Until we've hung out a while.

16 comments:

Rob Gregory Browne said...

For me it's just the opposite. The first 80 pages are a breeze. The last 80 kill me.

Jeff said...

I think of this as like meeting a new friend and then two weeks later be expected to write a ten page synopsis on all of their likes and dislikes, positive and negative personality traits, and so forth. It would be next to impossible.
I find it interesrting that it's always eighty pages for you.

jason evans said...

I know what you mean about going back to the beginning and feeling like the character would act and respond differently. The growth process is so fascinating. The character is much more real after the honeymoon is over.

Bill Cameron said...

I have an easy time writing the beginning, sixty, seventy, eighty pages or so, much easier than later parts of the story. But I do find the first pages need the most foundational work on rewrite. As you say, Anne, it's about getting to know the characters and understanding how they will respond in various situations. It can take a while.

Anne McAllister said...

Me, too! Oh, me, too! As someone who has just got over the 80s hump on the particular book I have that giddy "it's all downhill from here" feeling even though it most certainly is not all downhill from here. Still, yes, I have a handle on who they are now. Sometimes the beginnings are easy because that's the first flush of enthusiasm, but once I hit page 20, it's a grind until after page 80. Then if not smooth sailing, at least I know who the crew is and if anyone is inclined to mutiny, I've already thrown them overboard!

Great review from Harriet, by the way! Congrats!

anne frasier said...

rob, we seem to be total opposites! although i am guilty of writing more than one ending for every book. not sure what my record is. 3 or 4.

jeff, that's so true. what's weird is that i THINK i have the characters figured out before I start, but they prove me wrong. a lot of it is finding out what character types work best together. it's a dance.

Jason, yep. it's been interesting for me writing a sequel, because i knew the characters from page one. i liked that!

anne frasier said...

bill, the plot for those early pages comes easier for me, but not the characters. or more the character interaction. it's how they play off one another that takes time for me.

and then there is that middle part of the book... and the ending that i write 4 times. maybe everything i'm saying is total bullshit.

anne, you are so right about those first 20 pages and first flush. those come fairly easily for me too. or that's what i think when i'm writing them, then i start to stumble and grope and go back for a flashlight. and i love that giddy "all downhill from here" feeling! even though, like you said, it's not all downhill!

M. G. Tarquini said...

For me, it's that last third - tying up all the threads, tucking in all the corners. I'll write a beginning any day. I'll write an ending any day. It's that gallop into the finish that keeps me up nights.

anne frasier said...

m.g., i think that's my favorite part even though i know i'll rewrite the ending a million times. i love that race to the climax when everything is colliding and happening at once. i'm getting ready to start on that part in a few days, and i'm feeling christmas eve excitement. this is what i've been working for. this is my part of the ride. everything is heightened. danger, emotions. well, hopefully. :D

Shesawriter said...

Sounds a lot like the way it is with me. I look at those first pages as practice. :-)

anne said...

that's a good way to think of it. really. at least for us!

angie said...

All the pages are hard right now. Then again, I don't have anything to compare with yet - still working on numero uno!

Jaye Wells said...

The beginning is hard. So is the end. And the middle.

anne frasier said...

angie and jaye: you're right. it's all hard. i run into a brief scene here and there that's easy, but it's just there to trick me.

Elizabeth said...

I'll be happy to get past the outline.

anne frasier said...

elizabeth: i'm sorry!

outlines are horribly unpleasant, too.
i wonder why any of us are writing. :D it's really strange when you think about how painful it all is.

i also like to stab myself in the eye.