Have you ever made a puff pastry?
I did, once, with my dad, a wonderful amateur chef who taught me everything I know about cooking.
To make a puff pastry, you start by making this dough, rolling it out very thin, then you take a lot of butter and cut it into tiny bits which you scatter over the dough, and then you fold the dough in half and roll it out again. Then you scatter it with more butter, fold it again and roll it out again. Then more butter, fold again and roll again. Butter, fold and roll, until it feels like you’ve put a pound of butter into this thing and you can’t possibly roll it any more.
We only did it that one time, because buying the frozen Pepperidge Farm stuff is SO much easier.
But I’m glad I had the experience of that never-ending process, that meticulous, tedious work, that very satisfying end result (and the knowledge that someone else can do it much better than I can). #metaphor
The process of writing the beginning a novel, for me, feels like making puff pastry.
I write a piece, and then I write another, and another, and maybe another. I probably have five to ten beginnings for every novel I’ve ever written.
And then I fold them over onto one another, every time taking the best of each and discarding the rest, moving the pieces forward to where they’re meant to be.
In FINDING KATE, for instance, I think the original opening had Sir William showing up somewhere around Chapter Three or maybe Four. That meeting in the street that happens now on page what, like, page two*? — that quick, short little “meet-cute” (to borrow a phrase from rom-coms) where neither person knows who the other is yet — I didn’t even think to do that until toward the end of the drafting process. And even that scene got moved forward. Because I had to learn. Every writer has to learn.
I’m still learning. As I’m working on this draft, I’m realizing Beatrice is meeting all these other characters before she sees Benedick again. Big mistake, right? Benedick has to be there from the beginning (page 10, maybe?) so that the interaction between them can start right away. After all, it’s their banter that drives “Much Ado About Nothing,” not the Hero/Claudio romance, and Shakespeare only goes 120 lines into Act I, scene 1, before he gets the two of them sniping. In fact, Beatrice asks about him at line 30 — she’s thinking about him before he even comes on stage!
So I keep looking at what I’ve already done and folding the layers back. I’m not cutting everything — there’s some good stuff there — but it doesn’t belong at the beginning. Beatrice and Benedick belong at the beginning. Everything else gets layered in after them.
Butter, fold, and roll.
* OK, it’s page 12, right before the chapter break, which is really dramatic, right? But for purposes of my argument, it’s very early in the novel. And it made you turn the page to Chapter Two…