Mapping the First Few Pages
I spent a half-hour free writing this morning.
It rekindled my passion for the memoir but didn't get me any closer to figuring out the trajectory of the first few chapters. So I wrote down all the scenes on Post-It notes, then arranged and rearranged until I reached a better structure.
Those first few pages need to accomplish so much, I don't know how any author does it. According to Blake Snyder puts it in Save the Cat, the first ten pages of any screenplay must contain:
The opening image (pg. 1): The very impression of what a story is. Its tone, mood, type and scope. A “before” snapshot of the hero we’re about to follow on the adventure we’re going to take. The final image is a matching beat, an opposite.
The theme (pg. 5): Someone, not the main character, poses a question or makes a statement to the main character that is the thematic premise of the story.
Setup (pg. 1–10): Plant every character, exhibit every behavior that needs to be addressed later on, and show how and why the hero will need to change in order to win (six things that need fixing, or running gags and call-backs).
That's a lot of stuff.
I try not to be too formulaic about writing, but I have so many narrative threads: Past and present. My story, my mother's and my grandmother's. Research and interviews, dramatizations and dreams. Without a formula, I'd have nothing but knots. And so I plot and map, arrange and rearrange.
I think I've finally found a good way to set the story in motion, though I'll have to do some chopping and rewriting to fit within this new framework. Not that I mind terribly. I love the energy of free-writing, the way it adds a sheen of subconscious abstraction to the work that feels so vital.
I made s'mores for the office to atone for my coffee catastrophe. Even my baked goods are organized into neat little squares. That probably says something unflattering about my personality.