“Do you know the beginning and end of your story when you start writing? What is your personal process?” This is our topic of discussion this round.
I’m usually focused on picture books, but now I’m enrolled in a middle grade/YA novel writing class at Stanford, so I’ll discuss my current writing efforts. In fact, I just submitted a chunk of my story for next week’s class workshop.
My general story arc is clear because I am drawing from my past. I’m a newbie, so memoir is a starting place for me. I may have to distance myself at some point, but for now it helps me to write the truth I know. My story is shaped in vignettes (snapshots or slice-of-life stories), a nontraditional narrative structure. This is not strictly linear storytelling, rather more of a collage or scrapbook approach. I try to link all these pieces into a story that holds together in a cohesive way and builds a plot. However, when I begin writing I do not know how each vignette will evolve. I am exploring an idea, theme, emotion, or mood. Each vignette is like a little packet where I try to create a connection between the beginning and the end. The delight of this process is in the discovery of patterns and meaning. I'm hooked on this surprise.
I debated whether to use vignettes or verse. Verse novels use another nontraditional narrative structure that has recently become quite popular in the MG/YA world. Both approaches combine poetry and prose. I experimented breaking my existing sentences, but the work didn’t quite feel like verse or poetry, just lots of short lines. Ultimately I decided I prefer a lyrical prose.
I’m in the early phases so I don’t know specifically how the story will end. Our Stanford instructor is focused on helping us to write strong beginnings so we can hope to get the attention of an editor when and if we submit samples.
A couple years ago I read some of my early vignettes to my writer’s group. One member suggested I read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Cisneros describes her motivation for writing in vignettes, “I wanted stories like poems, compact and lyrical and ending with reverberation.” This is my aim too.