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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

SOMETIMES I JUST CAN'T WRITE LINEAR


(This is from a newsletter article i wrote for the DARA June 2012 issue. I've been crazy busy with the day job so I thought I'd share this with you instead of trying to rush through a quickie drive-by blog post.)

I've discovered something about the writing process with my latest work in progress I didn't know before. Sometimes I just can't write linear. Linear always worked well for me in the past—I'd outline my story, know exactly where I needed to go and how I needed to get there. Start at the beginning and move forward, chapter by chapter. There'd be a beginning, a middle, a big black moment and the end. Nice and straight-forward, right?

Not with my latest story. First, I had a dream. Not unusual, I dream all the time. But this was a bit different, it told a story. Not a big story, more like a long scene, but it was so complete and so vivid I wrote it down and sent it to one of my critique partners, thinking in the back of my mind it might work for a short magazine story or something along those lines. She loved it.

Yet something was missing. I felt I needed to tell the reader what led up to this momentous scene. Whoa, wait a minute, that meant the big scene I'd written was actually the end of the story. That's not how I write. I'm supposed to write the beginning, then the middle and then the end. How in the world do I make it work going in the opposite direction?

So, I thought about it. What brought my characters to this place in the story? They had their goal, motivation and conflict all handled nicely in the big scene I'd already written, tied up with a bow and finished—now I needed to backtrack and tell the reader the events that brought us to this place.

So I started with backstory—no not what you're thinking—I outlined a bit of backstory to flesh out the characters more fully, give them more depth, a reason they needed the big scene to happen (since I'd already written this great ending). Once I realized why the characters needed the resolution I'd given them I was able to go back and write chapters from the perspective of the various players in my drama, weaving them together from character to character, chapter by chapter, even out of order, and fit them together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

If you're like me, you do the outside pieces of the puzzle first, creating the frame to fill in. It's the same with story-telling. In this instance the outside, the framework, just happened to be the end first, and filling in and completing the picture came afterwards, piece by piece, until I had the whole.

The process of writing is a growing and evolving one with each person developing and honing the skill-sets that work for them. Plotters, pantsers, linear writers or puzzler fitters, find what works for you and the story you're telling. Like I said, sometimes I can't write linear. Sometimes I can. Find what works for you and do what you do best—WRITE.

10 comments:

Shelley Munro said...

You've definitely got to go with what works for you. I always find it interesting how other writers work. I'm a linear girl :)

Rita said...

I swear this is the only business the more you learn the harder it gets to do the job.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Interesting post, Kathy. I'm linear, too, and have never had the experience you describe. I learn about my characters and what motivates them as I write, so I expect it would be difficult for me to write out of order. On the other hand, when you're forced out of your comfort zone, interesting and sometimes great things can happen.

Rita, you're right, but that's only because you're doing it right. :-)

Kathy Ivan said...

Hey Shelley

As I said I'm a linear girl too, going from beginning to middle to end in order always worked before. But for whatever reason, this one seems to have taken on a life of it's own. LOL

Kathy Ivan said...

Rita, I agree. And the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don't know. LOL

Kathy Ivan said...

Marcelle

I think most of us that write suspense in any fashion tend to be linear writers, simply because we have to keep the suspense and the story line straight. Dropping those red herrings into the right places is easier when you know where they're supposed to go. LOL

Anne Marie Becker said...

Kathy, I would say I'm a linear writer, but this last WIP would prove me wrong. I thought I'd written 50,000 words of the beginning, but it turned out to be the middle and end. Boy, did that cause some issues. ;)

Each manuscript seems to be different for me, starting in a different place or with characters or with plot, but that's part of the fun.

Kathy Ivan said...

Anne Marie

That's kinda like what happened with this story I'm working on currently. I did the first several chapters, and then the last third of the book just oozed from my fingers before I could stop it. Rather than fight it, I went ahead and wrote it, knowing full well I'd have to go back and add the first section of the book. But I go with whatever works, because it's getting the story told and out to readers. That's the important part.

Maureen A. Miller said...

I've come to a startling conclusion about myself. I'm a skeleton writer. I write an entire book and I can see through the ribs. Then I go back and fill in the flesh. LOL

Kathy Ivan said...

Wow, Maureen, what a great way to phrase it! I've done that before, gotten the bare "bones" down and then gone and filled in all the meat of the story. We have to use whatever works. In the end, it all boils down to a completed book that somebody wants to read.

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