A daisy chain of scenes

Rhobin’s topic this month: How do you ensure a story has a good beginning, a satisfying ending, and good continuity in between?

When I was supervising students, I had to advise them on how to write a research thesis. I always told them, “Write the Introduction last, when you know what you are introducing.” In that situation, the boring, bread-and-butter stuff needs to be written up first: Method, Analysis, Results. A literature search was done before the study started, so that could simply be inserted, using a few linking paragraphs. Then it was the ending: Discussion — and finally the start.

I edit many books that start pretty lame, but warm up after perhaps chapter 3. Most of the story might be excellent, and well written, except of course no reader would reach the good bits. Guess what my advice to the writer is: throw away the first few chapters, put the project on ice until it gets cold, then rewrite the opening.

A loose, wandering plot diluted with irrelevancies is another problem I often see. I might tell the writer to construct a plot, then expand it into the story, but another good device is to write the ending first, so there is a clear view of where the story is going.

OK, that’s my advice to others. How do I do it, personally?

I usually start with a fair idea of how the story will end. Sometimes, but not always, I actually write the climax and finale. I did this for the first version of Guardian Angel: actually wrote my little heroine’s horrendous death. Then I had to agree with critics that this ending spoiled the story, and solved the problem by extending it — to her next birth. I knew the last line for this final version, but didn’t need to write the last scene until I got to it.

I didn’t pre-write the ending for Hit and Run. I knew that Charlie was going to be transformed into a decent person, and go to jail, but had no idea about the fate of the other characters, including the narrator, Sylvia. When she died, she took me by surprise, and the way she chose to do so put a smile into my heart.

I think of fiction as a series of scenes. Each is told from the point of view of one of the characters, and I do my best to induce my reader to BECOME that person for the time being. So, the story is a daisy chain of scenes, joined with short word bridges, especially when we need to skip time and/or place. In a way, each scene needs to be a short story that has a beginning, body and end. It needs to be built on previous happenings, and open up future ones, so that the reader feels compelled to find out what’s coming next.

If you were to look at any of the novels I’ve written in the past 20 years, you could extract a clear plot from it. When I wrote the Stories of the Ehvelen, that’s what I actually did: I had a list of events that needed to be covered. Oh, this got modified during writing, but the structure was there for me to follow.

I no longer need to do this. I invent a few people, and they then tell me what to write. But the result is equivalent. The plot is still there, even if I had no idea what it was going to be while writing.

Because I aim to make each scene as gripping and powerful as I can, it doesn’t matter what order I write them in. So, apart from the ending, I mostly just start at the beginning, and keep going, recording what my characters tell me. If I get stuck, I may skip ahead and write something else, returning later to fill the gap.

Writing is the chocolate icing on the cake of life. When you write, have everything else disappear from your consciousness. Write THIS scene to make it truer than the reality out there.

Please leave a comment, and while you’re here, look around my blog. You can enjoy

  • free short stories
  • essays that are challenging, informative and thought-provoking
  • interviews of remarkable people who honoured me with their answers, and entertaining answers I’ve given to other people’s questions
  • brief descriptions of several of my books
  • and past issues of my newsletter, Bobbing Around.

But also, please visit the authors listed below, and see what they thought of this month’s topic.

Skye Taylor
Marci Baun
Judith Copek
Margaret Fieland
A.J. Maguire
Beverley Bateman
Rhobin L Courtright
Anne de Gruchy

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
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14 Responses to A daisy chain of scenes

  1. “Write THIS scene to make it truer than the reality out there.” That’s my favorite part of your blog this month. When I’m writing, I try not to let anything else interfere. I know others listen to music, but I can’t. It makes it harder for me to “hear” the voices in my head telling me the story. Sometimes I’m surprised at what my fingers are typing. Just today, there was a twist in a scene, that I never expected, and I’d been thinking about this scene for days. But as I wrote it, something happened, and afterwards I reread it and thought, “Wow! That’s better than the way I was going to write that.” So who wrote it? My unconscious? My muse? Who cares! It was a good solution to a plot problem.
    Obviously, I write sequentially. I start with an action scene, then I just keep going, one chapter at a time. It works for me.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Fiona. I think I can explain such events. Quantum physics shows that consciousness creates reality. Your consciousness has created some consciousnesses, who are real while you think of them. They then take charge, and their consciousnesses determine what happens in the story.


  2. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you, Beverley.
    My just-finished book has the working title, “From Depression to Contentment.” One of the tools is “flow,” which you have just illustrated. We are lucky: many people trudge through an entire life without experiencing flow.


  3. okwriter says:

    Bob, we’ve agreed on this before – write the beginning last. While I write a beginning, when I finish the draft I come back and rewrite it. I also love your quote at the end. Writing is the chocolate icing on the cake of life. When you write, have everything else disappear from your consciousness. Beverley


  4. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Right. Whatever works for you.


  5. wildchild says:

    If I write the ending first, I lose all interest in the book. It’s the way my muse keeps me coming back, I guess. LOL

    But you have to use the process that works for you.


  6. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you, Judy. I don’t always write the end first, either, but usually have a clear idea of what it will be.


  7. judyinboston says:

    I think writing in scenes is always a good idea. As is some action. I usually know the ending, but have never thought about writing it first. Mine would be pretty thin without the weight of the book to add depth and resonance. But definitely an interesting concept.


  8. Rhobin says:

    Laughing! I tell my students to start with the introduction and then write the conclusion of their essay so they know where they are going, but I could see where it would work the other way around, too. I think every writer can start with someone else’s advice but then continue writing with their own unique method.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Oh, sometimes a carry around a scene in my mind for years, and it’s the intro to a story. It’s OK to start with that concept. Problem is that many people need to warm into the characters and backstory first.


  9. Skye-writer says:

    We think alike on lots of things – especially writing the ending first. I almost always have the ending written before I start the book. Or at least I’ve got it all written before I get to chapter 2, then it’s just a matter of getting from here to there. I’ve also tossed whole first chapters when I realized they weren’t grabbing anyone’s attention except maybe mine. As I mentioned in my post, I flesh my characters out pretty thoroughly before I start writing so once I’ve put them into the inciting incident, they run with the ball and tell me what to write, so we’ve got that in common too.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Yes, Skye, I’ve noticed this before. We write very different stories, but our interests and ways of thinking are similar.
      At the moment I am having fun. My hero has been facing an intractable problem. Another person presents him with an other one — and their solution will solve both, they’ve just told me.


  10. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Gawrsh, pardner, it was no nothin’


  11. pendantry says:

    Thanks for your enlightening words!


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