Monday, August 15, 2011

Set Up: My Writerly Kryptonite

Way back in February, I sat down and started to write the third draft of White Echoes (which has now been renamed, but that's beside the point).

I made this post, on the 17th, about how I didn't like set up. All the first quarter of the book -- establishing characters, foreshadowing the main conflict, bringing the world to life, tossing your MC's life to the high winds -- it's a vital part, but at the time I had so much problems writing it I began hating it.

At the time, Margo suggested it might be my subconscious picking on something inherently wrong with it. She was right, for the record. There was something super wrong with the beginning. So I reworked it, and decided to rewrite during Camp NaNo

Except, well, when I started having problems writing it this time, I stopped and looked at my outline. Any sequential problems with it? Undevelopped tension? Any failures I could find? I found tiny ones, but nothing major. Nothing warranting my unprecedented degree of writer block.

And I think that, just maybe, it's because I still don't like set up. These are awesome and all-important scenes, but while I know it, they remain hard to write. Super hard.

Conclusion? Part 1 is my writerly kryptonite.

Thankfully I am nearing Part II. With luck, things will pick up by then!


  1. I am exactly the same. I hate writing the beginning set up parts. Which is why I developed this solution: skip them. Just don't do the set up at all. Start right at the exciting conflict and reference the set up. That's what I'm try anyway. :)

  2. Well, I tried skipping the set up and now most of the feedback I get from agents is that they want to see more world building. It's a tricky balance between too much and not enough. Something I'm still struggling with.

  3. Sarah, I swear to you, I am starting as closely to the exciting stuff as I can. There is about 1000 words before MC meets the character at the root of the inciting incident, and within the first 5000, someone pointed a gun at another and the Inciting Incident is over. I don't honestly believe I could start earlier.

    What I call set-up is all the work until my MC willingly decides to take part in this story and crosses his point of no return. A good 20-25k into the story. Until that moment the main conflict was only hinted at.

    LG: Tricky balance indeed. It's part of why it irritates me so much.

  4. Bryan: My whole post in 4 words. ;)

  5. I found it got easier when I started following the advice of including no backstory in the first 50 pages (except for the sentence or two here and there that might slide in while I wasn't being vigilant enough). It simplified the process by letting me concentrate exclusively on establishing characters, current relationship status, and the stakes (prior to endangering them). Any world-building I include has to serve those purposes. A few well-placed details, provided in context instead of in expository chunks, go a long way.

  6. I don't like the set-up either. Oddly enough, TLF has waay to much set-up before the war actually starts. Well, the inciting incident does occur at the end of the first chapter, but then my characters spend the next 6? chapters planning and plotting.

  7. Margo: This is the first time I hear the advice. I am very much considering applying it the next time I start a draft. I'm curious, though... I thought Part 1 was the place to get most of it out. Not all of it, obviously, but chunks at least.

    Do you remember where you got the advice? I'd love to hear the reasoning behind it. (Also, 10 bucks says it's something I've read and completely ignored! XD)

  8. Where do I usually get my most outrageous advice? Don Maass, of course.

    I think people get backstory and set-up twisted up with each other and can't see how to separate one from the other.

    Set-up is really about the current situation, the world that is about to be seriously endangered.

    Backstory is about stuff that happened even before that, stuff that will inform and explain the characters' reactions to new events unfolding.

    Plus, in most novels, Part I is going to run 90-100 manuscript pages, so there's still room for backstory if it comes up.

    What's the reasoning? Backstory isn't supposed to be there for it's own sake. It's supposed to be there to add nuance to the character's reaction to *current* stressors. It's one thing to have a character experience a stressful situation. It's another to heighten that stressful situation by including backstory that illustrates how this *current* situation really pushes his buttons.

  9. Ok, I think I get you. I'll dig out my Donald Maass book and see what I can find. And, you know, try and apply it to the set up. Thanks!

  10. It's also kind of tied up with that whole 'in media res' versus 'in media conflictus' issue and the caution that starting with conflict doesn't mean starting with action and danger and exploding whatevers. Starting in media conflictus doesn't require backstory thrown in right from page one.