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 whoâ€™d killed his mother might walk around that corner.
He loosened his grip on the glass before it could shatter in his hand. Wouldnâ€™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 cafÃ©, and if Alex didnâ€™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.
â€œNegative is no, affirmative is yes. Geez, Rossi, and all this time I thought you were a pro.â€
A whole new kind of anger grabbed Alexâ€™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.
â€œIâ€™m not a close my eyes and think of England kinda girl.â€
She zeroed back in on Contadinoâ€™s sidekickâ€™s Achilles tendon. That she couldnâ€™t see the gun she guessed was pressed against either Carmenâ€™s temple or the nape of her neck kept her from pulling the trigger. If he was holding it casuallyâ€”merely in the vicinity of her headâ€”she might risk a shot. Sheâ€™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 wasnâ€™t willing to bet Carmâ€™s life on it.
â€œYou 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.