Shannon Stacey

If it ain't broke…

If I’ve learned one thing during the last couple of books I’ve written, it’s to stop trying to fix what isn’t broken. One thing I wanted to change about my process was writing snippets of scenes out of order. I wanted to start with chapter one and write straight through to the end. Well…nope. Can’t do it. Ain’t never gonna be able to do it. I’ve now stopped trying.

So here’s an example of what a very early page from 72 Hours might have looked like:

Facing down an irate, grenade-toting guerilla beat the hell out of knocking back umbrella drinks in this sun-drenched purgatory any day.

But Alex Rossi waited, boiling in the unforgiving humidity. Any second now, the man who’d killed his mother might walk around that corner.

He loosened his grip on the glass before it could shatter in his hand. Wouldn’t want to startle the mimosa-serving legion of Malibu Ken dolls.

But twenty-five years of waiting might come to a head in this tourist trap of an outdoor café, and if Alex didn’t get to release some tension soon, the glass was toast.


Grace bounced gently on the balls of her feet, clenching and unclenching her fists at her side. In brand-new khaki cargo pants and a tight-fitting, long-sleeved black t-shirt, with her favorite Nike crosstrainers on her feet, she was ready. To use a phrase from her youth, she was pumped.

And the waiting sucked. They were at rest on the far side of a neighboring island, waiting for the go signal. Carmen was monitoring and feeding Gallagher live satellite feed, and now some of the finest agents in the world were now on standbye, waiting for her eight-year-old son to have to take a leak.


“Negative is no, affirmative is yes. Geez, Rossi, and all this time I thought you were a pro.”


A whole new kind of anger grabbed Alex’s gut and gave it a squeeze. They were picking on his kid? Nobody messed with a Rossi and got away with it, even if he had to drag their bully asses home and beat the crap out of their dads for it.


“I’m not a close my eyes and think of England kinda girl.”

She zeroed back in on Contadino’s sidekick’s Achilles tendon. That she couldn’t see the gun she guessed was pressed against either Carmen’s temple or the nape of her neck kept her from pulling the trigger. If he was holding it casually—merely in the vicinity of her head—she might risk a shot. She’d bet money the sidekick was actually holding the gun away from Carmen, enabling him to shoot either his hostage or Alex in a split second, but she wasn’t willing to bet Carm’s life on it.


“You want to drive around in a minivan like every other suburban parent, but yours is bulletproof, Alex. What does that say about your life?…

Granted, the bits between the XXs are usually a bit longer, but I don’t want a 2-page blog entry here. I use the XXs because they’re easy to search for. When I’m about 3/4 into my word count, I go through the XXs and make a list of what needs to happen to make each XX go away.

The big “con”: This method makes it very, very hard to write a proposal. You’re not allowed to send scenes from chapters 1, 6, 11, and 19. About one and a half chapters at the beginning come to me without much work, but then, when I’ve gotten to know the characters and what they’re up to, they start feeding me scenes and bits of dialogue from later in the book.

The big “pro”: There’s almost always a scene to fit my mood. I could expand the scene with Gallagher arguing with Rossi in the helicopter, or work on the sex scene or head right into the action scene. Each scene is a puzzle piece, and if something comes to me, I’m free to slip that piece in where it goes. I can’t imagine working a puzzle from left to right and having to put aside a recognizable piece because I’m not there yet.

I love reading about the processes of other writers and seeing if there’s anything I can poach to make myself more efficient. I thought writing in a straight line would help. Now I’m totally okay with the fact it doesn’t. Those dumb little XXs work for me, so it’s time to stop trying to fix what’s not broken.

9 comments to “If it ain't broke…”

  1. Shiloh Walker
      · June 29th, 2006 at 10:39 am · Link

    :shrug:eeekkk… how can you write like that?

    I know some people do, but there’s no way I could keep the sequence straight when it was time to start piecing it together.

  2. Jaci Burton
      · June 29th, 2006 at 10:47 am · Link


    That makes my freakin head spin, Shan.

    I’m linear. Can’t do it any other way or I’ll implode. But I’m glad you’ve stopped beating your head against the wall for thinking you’re doing it wrong. And I’ve read your books. It works for you so keep it up. :cheer:

  3. Paula
      · June 29th, 2006 at 3:07 pm · Link

    OMG, I thought I was the only crazy person who wrote like that. Scenes come to me and I jot them down, then start piecing them together to form a coherent MS. Only bad thing is I don’t always get the snippets from the same WIP so I constantly write it down and have to put the title of the WIP on the top of the page so I can file it with that certain paperwork. How on earth I keep the characters straight and the stories seperate in my head is beyond even me. :type:

  4. Karen Templeton
      · June 29th, 2006 at 3:19 pm · Link

    Since I’m clearly schizo, I’m linear for the first four or five chapters, then I do the X thing, too. Not as much as you, but sometimes I know what the scene needs to be, but it’s just not in my head so I type a few sentences in caps and move on.

    Oh, I also have a lot of FINISH THIS and NEEDS WORK sprinkled throughout, too. :crazy:

    And when I get to the 3/4 mark, I often get the itch to base in the epilogue.

    I do not, however, write THE END until I have a reasonably complete first draft. It may be crap, but at least it’s all more or less there. :thumb:

  5. Heather Rae Scott
      · June 29th, 2006 at 4:48 pm · Link

    :baby: It makes my head spin as well…wow.

    I just have to say though, that if that’s how you write and it works for you, then you do it.

    I left you something on my blog. You deserve it. I’m still :clap: I :censor: :love: 72 HOURS!

    I’ve had lots of :coffee: because YOU kept me up until after 4 am.

  6. Mel
      · June 29th, 2006 at 7:53 pm · Link

    whatever works for you–and clearly this really works! :)


  7. Shannon
      · June 29th, 2006 at 8:53 pm · Link

    there’s no way I could keep the sequence straight when it was time to start piecing it together

    I don’t really have a problem with that because the the pieces are in sequence already. I fit them in were they fall in the story. The hard parts for me are the segues into the next scene…the bridges from scene to scene.

    Thank you, Rae! :kiss:

    And my muse is very relieved I’ve stopped trying to make her walk the straight and narrow. :nod:

  8. Steph T.
      · June 30th, 2006 at 8:16 am · Link

    Yeah, that’s pretty much exactly how I write…pages and pages of small, random scenes that came to me out of order and just had to be written down.

    My favorite part is when it comes time to fit them all together like a big, giant puzzle!!

    I gave up trying the in-order thing – this has gotten me through writing many books, so I’m done messing with my process. :crazy:

  9. kacey
      · June 30th, 2006 at 6:51 pm · Link

    wow, I so could not do that! I feel guilty if I just sneak in writing a scene from later in the book… :roll:

    Hey, but if it works for you, I say don’t mess with it!


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