01 August 2007


One of my students blogged on our student blog about how she's writing two different novels: one for my novel class and one for her Writing for Young Adults class -- one she's writing sequentially and one she's not. She's having a lot more trouble with the one that she's writing in bits and pieces. In my response to her post, I said she had to find the method that works best for her. We all write differently, all have a different process.

I am writing my novel sequentially. I pick up from where I left off the day before, read back over my work and edit it, and this is usually enough to get me straight back into the story. It seems natural to me to write from start to finish -- in plotted order. I make this distinction because of course a plot follows a straight timeline, but plot isn't always presented in such a traditional, ordered manner. Writers can apply all sorts of structures to organise the plot/s in their novels.

The first book I ever started writing was a book about a buckskin stallion called Diablo. I wrote this sequentially. I was about eight, and doing the illustrations myself. I wrote about eight chapters. The second was a Star Wars ripoff. Somewat longer than my first attempt, and written sequentially. My third was a big sprawling King Arthur novel, which I wrote in bits and pieces. As a scene came to me, I wrote it down. I was travelling at the time, and spent several weeks in my aunt's house in Holland, where I was the only one who spoke any English. My characters kept me company, banished the loneliness. I remember reading The Quest for the Holy Grail, and basing several chapters on this -- but all from Arthur's POV, which involved scenes with grail knights coming back and relating their tales. I think I started by making it clear that it was reported dialogue but then segued into their scenes. Did it work? Don't know, because I decided it was too static and threw the whole lot out. (Note to self: remember, never, never discard your work this way!) I was always worried about how I was going to stitch it all together. These days, I'm not sure whether I'd be so worried.

My next novel is the one I've been writing/reworking. Back to sequential order. I have, on very rare occasions, written scenes ahead (usually in the second book) and then caught my way up to them. I'm not so worried about assembling bits anymore -- ever since I added a second major plotline to a finished draft, which required careful weaving in and, because it was an entirely independent group of characters from those already in the novel (with one very minor exception), building links between the two plotlines. A fascinating process that taught me a lot.

I also write in scenes. It seems natural to me to write this way. Novels are usually constructed of scenes -- so that's almost always been my reading experience of a novel. So it seems strange to find people who don't write in scenes, but in one long, flowing plot that they then break up into chapters. My best friend does this. That to me is more strange than writing out of sequence. To use an analogy, people who write scenes in sequential order have pieces of a puzzle they put together in a logical sequence. Those who write their scenes as they come insert the pieces in random order. But the others -- they don't even have a puzzle. What do they have?

Really, though, it doesn't matter. If whatever you're doing works for you, then you're doing it right. It's that simple. And if what you're doing doesn't work -- then try something else. Read books by writers on their process and see the many different ways they achieve what they do, and perhaps in that great collection of varied processes, you might find one that suits you.

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