Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What the Heck is Scaffolding?

This week, we’re talking about writing process here at the Stiletto Gang and I am fortunate that I get to go on Wednesday, because it gives me a point of comparison to work with, given that Evelyn and Marilyn have written before me. I’ve come to the conclusion that the writers alongside whom I write here are much more organized and have a clearer vision of where they’re going and why in their stories than I do.

As with almost everything in my life, I’m convinced I’m doing it the wrong way.

When I started writing about Alison Bergeron six years ago, I started at the beginning, with the body in the trunk. From there, I jumped around, writing scenes as they popped into my head, going backwards and forward in time, finally reading the whole thing and filling in the blanks. I even had a couple of flashbacks to Alison’s college days, which thankfully, my eagle-eyed agent kindly asked me to remove. For those of you who read the “chicken salad sandwich” scene (and for those of you who haven’t, hopefully that will pique your interest), know that I wrote that shortly after I wrote the first chapter. I let my characters “talk” to me and tell me what they wanted to do and when. I still do this, by the way. I’m so intimately acquainted with Alison that when I write something that she wouldn’t say, she tells me, which keeps me honest. And no, I’m not crazy, even if I do have six or seven pretend people living in my brain talking to me about who they’d like to see murdered and why.

However, when I read my first draft of the manuscript now, I cringe. (See? That’s what a good editor will do for you.) Doing the book this way made more work for me, but it was my writing process and everything turned out fine in the long run. But there were a lot of inconsistencies that I’m glad my editor saw through to what she considered a good story with good characters. Still, I wondered if there was a better way to do this or if indeed, I was doing it correctly. I turned to my old friend (I call him that even though we don’t know each other) and writing teacher Stephen King for guidance.

On Writing was published in 2000 and is basically my writing bible. In it, King talks about his life, leaving nothing—including his bout with substance abuse—out while spinning the tale of how this kid from Maine grew up to become one of the greatest writers of our generation. But the message I took from the book mainly was that whatever your process, if it works, it works. No reason to tinker.

So I gave my process a name. I call it “scaffolding.” As time has gone on and I’ve written more books in the series, I’ve streamlined the process. I do write in order, but I do go back almost every day that I do write and see what I can add, delete, or revise. Do we need a clue? A red herring? A better ending to a chapter? It’s kind of convoluted but it works for me. Thank you, Mr. King, for giving me permission to approach writing as a bass-ackwards process of plot discovery.

And now, Alison and I are going to have lunch. She told me that she's hungry and wants chicken salad. (Just kidding!)

Maggie Barbieri

1 comment:

  1. Stephen King's book "On Writing" was a great help to me too.

    I think sometimes we're told 'no, do it THIS way' so many times that we forget that we just 'did it' our own way and did just fine.

    The term 'scaffolding' seems to fit well - may I borrow it? *grins