Tonight I am going through a collection of files I have amassed. I have put them all in one folder on my desktop and I am sifting through them in a very disorganized sort of way. I keep finding bits and pieces, add-ons, freewrites and notes.
I am learning to draw these characters with more complexity. They are smarter than they were when I first penned them. They are smarter and they see the world in more complex ways. Joe has seen much of the world, in many ways, and Mattie wishes nothing more than to get out of her town and see something other than her world.
I have been wrestling with my notes over the past week. I have outlined the scene in which Joe and Mattie meet, and I think it’s right. It feels right. But what I’m not sure of is whether or not it is the beginning of the book. I don’t think it is. I do not know where the story begins, and that has left me stuck when it comes to actually getting into the writing part of this project. I have become good at writing about it, but I haven’t begun to write it, and that has me really bugged.
Here is what I know so far:
- Joe and Mattie meet at the state fair.
- Mattie has lived in the same town all her life. She is twenty-two when she meets Joe.
- Joe was in the Navy for a while. He wanted to travel, but instead got shipped to a shipyard in Washington. He injured his leg and received a medical discharge. He gets a disability check from the Navy each month. It’s not much, but it is something. He has direct deposit and relies on the computers in public libraries for correspondence. He knows how to work the system, to a point.
- Joe travels after he gets out of the Navy. He has no attachments to any place or anyone. He lives in his car and drives and thinks and tries to figure out the next thing. He finds odd jobs and sees everything as an experience.
- Mattie got a job in an office right after she graduated from high school. It’s full time, and often she works a lot more than that. She has tried to take a class or two at the community college, and found the classes really interesting, but she couldn’t keep up.
- Mattie lives with her abusive father. Her mother left when Mattie was about 16.
- I do not know why Joe left his family or where he was living before he joined the Navy. He joined because he wanted to see the world.
- Mattie will leave her town, and she will go with Joe. With Joe, Mattie will feel safe.
- They will travel, work odd jobs.
- They meet in the late 1990’s.
My handwritten notes contain much more detail, and it is all making sense in my head. What is holding me up, I suppose, is the fragmented story. Does it begin with Joe leaving the Navy? Him driving towards the South? It can’t begin with them meeting, I don’t think. I either need to build up to that, or let it be back story and I can’t figure that out.
My friend John Paul says that he writes as though he is telling someone a story over coffee. I try to imagine myself doing that, but it doesn’t work. Over coffee I could tell you quite a bit about my characters, and I could tell you fragmented bits of their story. I know that two of the most important things that happen in the story are Mattie and Joe meeting, and their parting (Joe will leave Mattie behind, I know that for sure).
I also know that they will have at least one child, Amy. I am considering cutting Dustin out completely. When I was looking over a June story with my thesis advisor, he pointed out that June’s brother, Jackson, had no real role in the story. He asked what Jackson’s function was, and I couldn’t answer him. So I cut him out and the story tightened up a great deal. I am wondering what Dustin’s function is. I think that his relationship to Amy will be very important, but only after Mattie is left behind.
When I write non-fiction I generally start in the middle. It’s rare that I know the thesis when I sit down to write for the first time. The process is messy, and never linear. I move back and forth between the computer and hand-written notes. I rarely outline or plan. Instead I work with things as they come, move them around until the piece is cohesive.
When I write fiction, though, (or when I wrote fiction), the process has been quite a bit different. I often know the first line before I sit down to write and the story grows from there. While I still go back and forth between typing and writing by hand, the story usually comes out in a pretty linear fashion.
Unplanted isn’t coming out linearly at all. When I wrote it as a short story, I wrote from beginning to end. That was easy because it was due in less than 24 hours and it had to come out.
Now I am sifting through all of these artifacts and trying to piece it together, but that isn’t working. It makes perfect sense that it isn’t working, and I’m not fighting it. Instead I am trying to learn about my characters as I examine these artifacts. And I am learning quite a bit.
I hope that I will soon find the beginning of their story. I am anxious to write it.