Friday 19 July 2019

Making things up: going out of order

by Teri Terry

Part 6 in Marking Things up: a blog series about the creative process
When you are writing, do you start at the beginning and carry on until you get to the end, or do you write scenes out of order? 

Back years ago when I was still learning to write novels, I had a problem. I'd come a long way and could say I had these three elements pretty much in hand: 

1. Idea for the story: one that was big enough to take a whole novel to explore.
2. The beginning: one to drag readers into the world and story
3. The ending: a satisfying end to the character's - dare I say it? - journey. The sort you don't necessarily see coming but once you have it gives you that feeling that says it always had to be that way.

What's missing? the pesky middle

I loved - still do! - writing beginnings and endings. Then I'd rush as quick as I could from one to the other. I didn't have saggy middles; it's more that they were missing. I'd put in the essentials to lead from beginning to end but no more. There were no pauses or beats in the story, no subplots, no breaks for the reader - just a breathless rush from one to the other.

It took me a while to understand this, but once I did, I still struggled to understand what needed to be there. 

When I wrote the Slated trilogy, it was originally going to be a single novel, not a trilogy. I wrote the part of it that would have been the first third if it was a standalone, and realised there was too much of a rush through it, that it needed more, and made the decision to change it to a trilogy. So, I had something less than 20,000 words that needed to grow.

I think this is the first time I made a chapter table: first column, chapter number/word count; second column, a paragraph saying what happened in the chapter; third column blank. The important third column is where I'd add notes of things that were missing, needed to change etc. Doing this helped me see what was missing and where to put it, and is still something I do today, not so much as an initial plotting tool but further along in the process when I'm getting stressed about the missing middle.

Because of the way Slated evolved, I'd written the beginning and ending before I filled in the middle. To be fair I wrote the ending before I'd finished even the shorter version of the novel that I had to begin with. I'm pretty sure this is the first time I did this: write the ending early on in the process.
If I save a scene that is in my head, clear in my thoughts, and don't allow myself to write it until I get there in the plot, once I'm there it's lost what it had before - that urgency the words need to have, that delight in writing it also. 
Writing out of order is something I've done since then whenever I had a scene in my head that won't leave me alone. It might have to change - even drastically - when I get there, but that's ok. I need to get it out when it wants out.

Somewhere along the way I stopped writing out of order: multiple viewpoints tripped me up. Book of Lies, the Dark Matter trilogy (Contagion, Deception, Evolution) and Fated all have multiple viewpoints. I tried different ways of approaching this but I found that writing out of order to any extent didn't work when I was alternating chapters between different character's points of view. I still occasionally would write a few critical scenes - the key scenes that define the character &/or move the plot along - that were niggling at me even though the point of view would end up changing later on once I got there. 

Now I'm writing a Shiny New Thing: I can't tell you much about it yet, but it has a single point of view. I think somewhere along the way I'd forgotten how much fun it can be to do things out of order, and how useful it is to my writing process. 

Writing takes a lot of self-discipline, particularly when you add in deadlines. I used to really push myself to hit word counts or hour counts of how many hours a day I was writing, and it was taking the fun out of it. Being able to daydream my characters and think ahead and backwards and ahead again makes it more fun, but beyond that:
Writing critical scenes first cements the story and key elements in my mind. It makes it obvious what is needed to link these scenes together - and there is my missing middle. 
I still use tables to keep me on track when I need to. At the moment I'm at the stage where I'm approaching the finish line, and there are gaps here and there in my table - missing chapters that need to be written still - that get me from one critical scene to another.

There are no rules on the best way to write a novel: every writer and every story will work in a different way.
But if you've ever felt it is inherently wrong to jump ahead to the fun stuff in your plot, don't punish your muse! They like a bit of freedom.

Making Things Up: previous blogs in this series on the creative process

Part 5: Finding the place for your story
Part 4: The Care and Feeding of Plot Bunnies
Part 3: Writing all the right words: but not necessarily in the right order
Part 2: Getting Started
Part 1: Because I'm a writer, and that's what I do

1 comment :

  1. I don't know if it's the way I am or my Asperger's, but I have to write a chapter summary for each of my books before I start writing. Then I will write it in longhand from start to end. If I think of something to write in a certain chapter I have already written, then I will make a note, and add it in the next draft.


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