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Getting From Here to There

September 23, 2013

The lights in the hospital room were off when Lily entered.

That’s the first line of my new novel, which I’ll begin writing next week.

“Would you like to have dinner?” he asked

And that’s the last line. All I need now is sixty-five- or seventy-thousand more words and I got it made.

When I start a book I always know the first and last sentences. It gives me direction. But the odds of those sentences actually making it into the book are negligible. When I began The Coffin Haulers, the first sentence is close to what I started with, but the novel was supposed to end with Joey Boloccini saying, “Case closed.” It doesn’t.

The same was true with The Champagne Ladies. I changed the first sentence so many times I don’t even remember what the original was in the first draft.  It doesn’t matter. Having something to work with, knowing the beginning and end, gives me a goal. I’m not wandering about without an end in sight and a beginning that leads logically to the end.

I don’t outline my novels because that’s too rigid of a structure for me. Other writers live by outlines. Whatever works. i take copious notes on how I want the story to proceed, and often the notes turn out to be irrelevant to the plot or characters. Here’s one that seemed interesting when I wrote it but turned out to be needless to the story: Maybe introduce the alderman as a plot point.

Notes are a stream-of-consciousness technique (something Joey actually employs when he’s stumped) but not always meaningful. And now let me me amend that; They are meaningful because they tell me where the story should not go as well as where it should go.

The exact wording of the first sentence may not remain in the final draft, nor the last sentence, but at least in have a map to follow.

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