Out of order

My 5-year-old has a friend over for the day, which means water guns, frog catching, soccer games, grassy feet and dirty hands, and tracks of dirt through the house.

And I vacuumed this morning. D’oh!

I hate when I do things out of order. It’s like when I wipe down the furniture and then notice that the ceiling fan blades are thick with dust.

More frustrating is when my writing is out of order. Most of the manuscripts I’ve written are born with a nugget of action that can't take place until somewhere around page 150. It’s the pivotal moment, the time when the protagonist must decide his or her fate.

This scene is penned in my mind with amazing clarity—the characters’ faces, their passion, their altered life. Usually I’ve thought through that scene a dozen times, and then I get to work on a story that leads to that moment.

That’s when the real work begins. I’m so eager to get to that moment, but I’ve got to make sure it’s still genuine and absolutely real when I finally reach that scene. I have to set the table before I enjoy the feast. Or, to better reflect my oh-so-glamorous life, I’ve got to brown the hamburger before I can eat the manwich.

It’s the opposite of the scientific method, I guess. Instead of an organic, let’s-see-how-this-goes story, my stories are built on making that single pivotal moment ring true. When I’m ready to actually write (usually about four to six months after that pivotal scene snagged my mind), I start with page one.

In my current manuscript, I’m so close to that pivotal moment that I’m itching to speed ahead so I can finally put my thoughts to paper. I’m tempted to gloss over important world building to get there. So I’m deliberately taking my time. I’m stepping back, playing pitch with my son and doing cartwheels with my daughter, all while secretly mulling what my characters need to do to get to that point in a believable, true way.

Fellow writers, where does your story truly begin? Does your story unfold at page one, the final page, or the pivotal moment? Do any of you write out of order?