In this post I’m going to introduce a possible method for fiction story writing. I got the idea while attending a fiction writing seminar where the speaker offered this tip: “I like to write sentences that beget other sentences.” I’d never heard this expression before but it seemed worth a closer look. I understood what the speaker was getting at: write a sentence that refers to, or alludes to, things that require further elucidation. Then, in subsequent sentences the writer has some idea of what to write more about — those things needing elucidation. (Clearly this is more suited for those of us who are pantsers).
As an example, consider the following sentence:
Notice two things about this sentence. First, it has a line number on the left (more about this later). Second, this sentence raises a number of questions. Assuming it is the starting sentence of a story, then: 1) who is “I,” 2) who is Mark, 3) why would I think he wanted to kill me, and 4) what did he do that shocked me? Also, 5) we know nothing about the scene these two characters are in, nor 6) the timeframe of the scene. There are also the 7) inevitable situational aspects we don’t know about.
In subsequent paragraphs we start filling in this information, mindful that in so doing we can allude to still more things that require elucidation. For now, which of the above questions do we address first? Well, let’s just draft an arbitrary sample of a plausible next paragraph and see what we find.
This paragraph addresses questions Q3 and Q4 above, but that’s about it. Further, it adds to our list of questions: 8) who is ringing the doorbell, 9) what do “fraudulent baseline” and “fair-dare mean, 10a) why did Mark kill himself, and 10b) why did Mark jump instead of putting his gun to his head and pulling the trigger? Of these questions it seems to me we first need to address Q8 – who is ringing the doorbell. It is human nature to respond to an incessantly sounding notification, be it doorbell or phone. Anyway, the “I” in the story can’t do anything for the guy who went over the planter so he may as well answer the door.
Now we have a partial answer to Q1 and Q2. We know that “I” is Jeff Bailor and that Mark is Mark Wye, an accountant. However, before going further it is evident that we could use some help in tracking all these questions and answers. Below is a simple table that may do the job. This is where the line numbers come in handy. In MSWord these numbers can be readily added on any selected text. However, I don’t think it necessary to be too precise in referring to them. The idea is they help us refer back to the general area in the text where the question or answer was presented. For example, the line number could just as easily refer to the paragraph containing the question or answer. Also, note the line column to the left of the addresses column refers to the line (or paragraph) that gives an answer to the question. Note that the line numbers in this post apply only to story lines. Also note that many answers are not complete answers; that is, we can expect more complete information later on. For this reason the column on the right is titled Addresses meaning the entry may not be the complete answer. Cells in the table that are left blank mean no entry has been identified for them yet. Thus we see, for instance, that I have not yet addressed Q6 – the timeframe of the scene.
|1||1 – who is “I,”||40||Jeff Bailor|
|1||2 – who is Mark||40||Mark Wye, accountant|
|1||3 – why would I think he would want to kill me||2||Mark was brandishing a gun at him, threating to shoot|
|1||4 – what did he do that shocked me||8||Ran out to the balcony and jumped over the planter, plunging to his death|
|1||5 – we know nothing about the scene these two characters are in||47||In Mark Wye’s apartment on the 7th floor|
|1||6 – the timeframe of the scene|
|1||7 – inevitable situational aspects we don’t know about.|
|1||7a – what is the relationship between the two men||35||Mark was Jeff’s accountant|
|1||7b – what brought them to be together at this time and place|
|5||8 – what did Mark mean by “fraudulent baseline” and “fair-dare”|
|19||9 – what caused the two cops to come to the door, especially with guns drawn|
This is a lot to take in in one post, so I’ll end it here and continue the discussion in a subsequent post. I’m not sure if this method has been identified by others; I can only say that I came up with it on my own from the inspirational tip mentioned in the beginning. For lack of a better term I’d call this method the Fiction Inline Commentary Writing Approach, or FICWA. If I had to define it in a few sentences I would describe it as: a writing tool consisting of original numbered-line fiction text interspersed with inline commentary. The later focuses on the identification and accounting of explicit, implicit, or anticipated questions and answers raised in the fiction text. A simple table method is used to facilitate Q/A tracking. The table need not be embedded inline and in fact is more easily used if in a separate window (assuming a computer is used).