Sloppy Copy, Ugly Beginnings & the Sense of Smell

I could never write a book about writing well — not smart enough, for starters — but I can give you a glimpse into how it sometimes works for me. I don’t speak from a pedestal; this missive comes from the trenches.

I was recently writing Book #3 for my new SCARY TALES series for grades 2-5 (read: solidlly 3-4).

Plot: There are three kids trapped in a school at night and strange creatures gather outside the building, shuffling closer. And, sure, maybe there’s already something frightening downstairs, too.

As I was working on the story, it hit me that there was a smell to it, a smell of evil that drifted into the building like smoke, lingering and circling and rubbing against your legs like a cat. So I jotted down a few words. They are an ugly mess. And I didn’t know at the time where in the story this could possibly occur, if at all.

Let me show you . . .

Yes, this is not a beautiful beginning, but precisely because it is a beginning, I am here to celebrate it. Anything that gets you started — that opens a door — is a good thing for a writer.

Worst handwriting ever. Plus, it looks like I left the paper in a puddle, or used it to soak up a spill. This is the moment in writing when you unexpectedly receive the kernel of an idea, the beginning of something, and you need to quickly get some words on the page — even if they are only 33% of the right words, and in entirely the wrong order. You know it isn’t right, not even close, but it’s not a real worry either. Those concerns come later on, like mosquitoes at dusk.

Since this will ultimately be a scary story for children, I want to be careful about how far to go with it. Where is the line I won’t cross? My intention is to push that line a little, but I don’t want to get too dark. Everyone is going to have a different opinion on what’s “too scary” and what’s not scary enough. In terms of how that plays out as a writer, I suspect it’s best to push the limits in a rough draft, since you can always pull back in revision — and again after the input of an objective editor.

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