Linear Writing

on December 21, 2006

Some writers can write scenes out of order, then put all these odd scenes into some semblance of sanity and have a completed book. Some people write the ending first. Or they see a scene in the middle of the book and write that, then go back to the beginning.

Me? I write linearly. I go from Point A to Point B to Point C, etc. Or I should say, Chapter One, Two, Three, Four . . .

Two examples to share. First, in SPEAK NO EVIL I thought I saw the ending. I was getting near deadline and I didn’t want to forget it. So I wrote it out–nearly 50 pages. Then went back where I left off and wrote the “right” way. Problem was, by the time the characters got to the supposed ending, they looked at me and said, “Are you out of your mind?”

Well, um, maybe.

So I scraped that ending and had to do it all over again. I hate that.

In FEAR NO EVIL, I had a major revelation more than halfway through the book. Well, okay, more like a major panic that everything I’d written wasn’t working because a major plot point was so miserably screwed up. But a couple hours later the solution hit. Could I just start writing with the solution in mind, to go back and fix the messed up scenes later?

No. I went back to the beginning and fixed every miserable scene that needed fixing. Because I write linearly. If I don’t thread it in from the beginning, I can’t keep moving forward. It’s like when my husband sees a tilted picture on the wall. He can’t NOT walk by and straighten it.

Sometimes I’ll come up with something I’d never thought of before. For example, in THE HUNT Miranda Moore was the sole survivor of a serial killer. She’d been tortured. But I sort of glossed over a lot of it, until she was getting ready to get into the shower. Then she looked at herself in the mirror and saw her breasts. They were severely scarred. And then everything hit me. It was there in the story all along, but I had to go back and pull out those nuggets and polish them a bit. It made so much sense, but I didn’t see it at the time. Thing is, I couldn’t just jot down a note like, “insert scene about Miranda’s disfigurement” and continue writing. I had to do it right then and there.

Take revisions. I love the way my editor writes in the margins and sends me back the entire manuscript. I have her editorial letter, with the overall story problems, which I read a couple of times and internalize, but never look at while revising. It’s the margin notes that do it for me. I have the big problems already figured out in my mind.

But I CAN’T edit a scene in the middle of the book. In SEE NO EVIL, there was a problem with the love scene. I understood what the problem was, but I couldn’t just hop in and fix it. Why? Because in the revising subtle changes to character occur. If I wrote that scene out of order, I wouldn’t be holding true to the characters. And, in fact, it isn’t until I start editing–from page one–that I gradually reshape the characters and the story. What happens at the beginning truly effects what happens in the middle, in bed, at the end. To rewrite the ending (or the sex scene) then go back and “fix” the beginning, I’m forcing my characters into a mold I created.

What happened to that sex scene is that I THOUGHT I needed to write something more conventional because my editor didn’t like the less conventional scene I wrote. If I had gone that route, I would have had to scrap those 15 pages. As it turned out, I did write something a little less conventional, but it worked so much better than the original scene or what I had envisioned when I read about the scene problems. And it’s true to character.

This process actually helped when revising FEAR NO EVIL. Because I was on a very short deadline (a week for revisions) I sent chunks of the book (about 100 pages each) to my editor as I finished them. If I hopped all over the place, I would have given her the entire manuscript–on-time–but with no chance of her reading the revisions.

Linear writing doesn’t mean necessarily a simple or linear story. It’s simply the process of getting the story out. And by no means is it the right way or the only way. It’s the right way for me. I know successful published authors who write the sex scene first, or the ending, or a pivotal turning point. I have a friend who writes completed out of order then puts the book together when she thinks she has all the scenes done.

My husband, who writes speeches and op-eds, will outline first–a word or phrase for each paragraph or section. Then he starts to flesh them out. He’ll start at the beginning, then go to the end to make sure they match, then fill in points in between. He works and reworks and moves things around. You might think, oh, this is because it’s an op-ed. But I used to write them, too, and I still wrote from beginning to end.

What about you? How do you write?

BTW, I have a post up today on Romancing the Blog called Tune In or Tune Out about television viewing.