Stringing a story together

I am a linear writer. I start at the beginning and write on through to the end. As I go, I also spiral back to look at what I wrote recently and revise and tweak and then write more forward progress. This has been my process for five novels now.

But I’m having trouble with novel six. I don’t know where the beginning is. So I can’t start. And yet I must. I’ve tried some tricks and exercises to find the beginning, but so far, no luck. So now I’ve decided I just have to break out of my habits and start writing scenes that I know will take place. As uncomfortable as that will be, it will be less so than not starting at all.

The problem with me in . . . oh, let’s call it splatter writing (that’s pretty not linear, right?) . . . The problem with me in splatter writing is that usually I get to know my characters through the course of writing and it takes me about 20-30K words before I feel connected. If I start in the middle somewhere, I should already know them by then and know exactly how they’ll react in situations.

I’ve done some interviews with the three POV characters to understand them better. That’s helped some. So I’m hoping this will work out for the best. But the efficiency part of me (yeah, there’s a little bit of someone like that inside me–don’t laugh) is worried that I’ll write these scenes and then either have to get rid of them all together because they won’t fit in the final product, or that I’ll have to revise them drastically.

Boohoo. Welcome to writing. It’s all about revision and cutting a lot of words happens often. So Bite Me. Take that efficiency-self!

So I am embarking on a terror-filled process (because it’s so unfamiliar and it might not work).  Keep your fingers crossed that works out. I’ll let you know.

I’ll be at Radcon when this post pops up on sfnovelists. I’ll be answering when I get back. For those of you in the tri-cities area who will be attending Radcon, I look forward to meeting you.

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  1. 1. Dick O'Connor

    Try “It was a dark and stormy night……..’

  2. 2. Kristine Smith

    I’m a linear writer as well. I have written “middle scenes” in order to get started, but I’ve either wound up dumping them or rewriting them so they became unrecognizable, for the reasons you stated. I get to know my characters as the book goes along, and when I write scenes out of order, I’m writing them around characters who act as I tell them to, not as they tell me they should. Because the events that have brought them to this point haven’t happened yet because I wasn’t able to write them, so the characters are flying as blindly as I am at that time. The drivers aren’t fully formed.

  3. 3. Karen Wester Newton

    I also tend to write in a linear fashion. Based on my experience, I would say just write it out. Worry about where the story will start once you know how it ends. I used to think of words cut as words wasted but I don’t anymore. If I needed to write them to know what happened, that’s OK. Once I know what happened, then I can figure out what needs to be on the page for the reader. Do you want what’s efficient for you or what’s efficient for the readers?

    Have fun at Radcon! February is a great time to have a con.

  4. 4. Scarlett

    I’ve had the opposite problem in that I started as a splatter writer (love the phrase btw) and am training myself to be more disciplined linear writer with mixed success. Splatter writing comes naturally but it doesn’t do anything for me plot wise, as I tend to let characters lead the plot. Anything more structured, plot-wise, leaves me cold. So in effect, I’ve got a pretty little dilemma on my hands… and am doomed to lose a lot of wordage either way – and I really hate that :)

  5. 5. stevent

    I’m on the fourth revision of my first novel now, and my experience with it, and the way I tend to write, is also linear. I don’t think I could start in the middle and piece it all together. It would annoy me too much to try and do that.

    There were a lot of inconsistencies in my first two drafts because I wrote in a linear fashion and didn’t look back at what I had written earlier, so I contradicted myself. I’ve learned from that experience to always go back and read what I wrote in an earlier part of the novel, even if it’s 200 pages back. I think the problem was I just wanted to keep writing and not look back, because if I took the time to read back through what I had written before, I wouldn’t actually write as much that day as I wanted to, and I wouldn’t feel like I had accomplished anything.

    It’s saved a lot of time, however, to actually go back and read and make sure everything is consistent. I’m trying to get better at planning everything ahead of time as well.

  6. 6. Simon Haynes

    I’m a splatter writer and always have been. Whenever I get an idea for a scene I write down a couple of sentences, and I have folders full of these notes – one for each book. When I’m writing a novel and get stuck for What Happens Next I dig through the scene file for the work in progress. Even if I don’t hit a usable idea, something I’ve scribbled down generally pulls the trigger.

    Backs of envelopes, receipts, bookmarks, blank pages … I’ll scribble notes on anything to hand, which can make things fun.

  7. 7. Josh Anderson

    Even if you end up throwing all of your work away, these scenes may give you the boost to find that elsusive beginning. If a few thousand words are all that is sacrificed for a return to your linear style, I say it is time well spent.

  8. 8. bob charters

    I’d compare some bits of the first stab at the story as scaffolding. It may be too wordy, or it may be too much telling instead of showing, but it’s there to set the facts in place. Later I go back and replace it with good narrative, or move something out that should be introduced later in the story. Though I’m a linear writer, I’m sure this could be just as easily used for ‘splatter writing’. Sometimes, while in middle of a narrative, I think of a great closing scene. I go ahead and write that, using as much good narrative as possible, but also a lot of scaffolding.

  9. 9. S.C. Butler

    I’m a linear writer as well. I gave up thinking I was actually starting at the beginning a long time ago. Now I just plunge in, and worry about where it’s going to start on the second draft.

  10. 10. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Kris~

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one. And it’s damned unnerving. Like driving in a tulle fog.

    Di

  11. 11. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Karen and Josh~

    It isn’t the wasting of words. It’s the total uncertainty. I have discovered I don’t like uncertainty. Not that the words will ever fit, but that they will ever get me anywhere. Sigh. I guess I should trust the process. It hasn’t failed me yet. But damn, ever time I start, it feels like it might this time.

    Paranoia anyone?

    Di

  12. 12. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Scarlett~

    That’s what I fear about splatter writing. That I won’t end up with a story. Just a really interesting puzzle. Stew. Splatter Stew. Can characters eat that?

    Di

  13. 13. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    StevenT: I’m obsessive about going back and writing and keeping notes as I go. Gets worse when you commit series or trilogy. Some people write fast enough that they can keep it all in their heads until their done (ahem, Jay Lake! I’m talking to you!). I envy that.

    Di

  14. 14. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Simon: I tried that. Know what happened? I totally ignored what I wrote down. My uncle was friends with Robert Heinlein. Apparently he used to keep his notebook handy and jot things down (without telling anyone what he was writing, which created a certain amount of paranoia in conversations) and then put all the papers in folders and do exactly what you do–pull them out and see what they turned into. Wish I could be so disciplined.

    Di

  15. 15. S. M. Payne

    I’m a little of both. The building of the story is as nonlinear as nonlinear can get. I always say I cannot write a character’s story until I get under their skin. And I know huge parts of all of the story before I start. Once I start though, it’s beginning to end.

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Author Information

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis has written the fantasy novel trilogy that includes Path of Fate, Path of Honor and Path of Blood. Path of Fate was nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Recently released was The Turning Tide, third in her Crosspointe Chronicles series (look also for The Cipher and The Black Ship). In October 2009, look for Bitter Night, a contemporary fantasy. Diana teaches in the English Department at the University of Montana Western, and is an avid lover of all things chocolate. Visit site.

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