Monday, December 28, 2015

Where to Begin

On this back-to-work Monday, I slightly envy my husband his job. I don't envy the hours he works, or the skills he had to learn. I don't envy him dealing with cranky people far more than I ever have to, and I don't envy him getting up earlier than I did this morning. But I envy the fact that when he arrives at the office or operating room, the work he has to do is laid out ready for him. The patients arrive, and he cares for them. "What next?" is always one examining room away. ("What do I do next?" is a far more complicated question, of course. I'm not saying his job is easy.)

Today I have to figure out what my next work is. In terms of the big picture that's easy. Today, having finished a book review and a guest blog post for the Mental Health in YA Fiction board, I now need to finish this blog post, then start my revisions. The ones for the sequel to The War That Saved My Life.

I have until the end of January--enough time to finish, but not so much I can spend any squirreling around. The trick is knowing where to start. At the beginning, duh--but where's the beginning to this story? Is it in the scene I currently have at the start? Or is the true beginning, the beginning of the novel, sometime later? (It can't be earlier in this case, or it would have happened in the first book.)

See, novels aren't really all the scenes you've written. They're all the scenes you ever wrote, including ones you wrote and discarded, and they're also all the scenes you chose not to write. You don't cover every moment of every day, unless, of course, you're writing a book that does that--even then, you don't say everything. You pick and chose your details. You focus your attention. You put a scene in dialogue, or you don't; you describe a landscape, or not. Many people have commented to me that I very rarely describe what my point-of-view character looks like; that's a deliberate choice I make, because I like readers to imagine the character the way they choose. Let's face it: just because I don't describe the character as wearing underwear, doesn't mean she isn't wearing any. She's probably got a nose, too, and whether I describe its shape or not really doesn't matter to the story.

That's where we are right now with this sequel. Not wondering whether the characters have noses. Wondering what matters most to the story.

"I really like some of my early scenes," I said to my editor.

"Yeah," she agreed. "Some of them are really good. And they're going to have to hit the cutting room floor."

Really good and hitting the cutting room floor. Both true. What's the best way to tell this story? (Seriously--I could have stayed in medical school.)