Getting Started & Writer's Block
Linear Writing Vs. Non-Linear Writing
I'm just starting out on a book now, based off a plot I've had in my head for some time, but I'm having the problem of figuring out where to start. My main concern is getting opinions on whether it's more beneficial to write in a linear fashion, from beginning to end, or to write excerpts of a scene from here or there, and then later piece them together. I've got so much muse for certain scenes that I want to write, but I feel like I should start from the beginning and work to that point instead of writing it. I'm afraid once I write that interesting and exciting scene, then I'll lose the muse to go back to the 'filler' parts inbetween.
It depends on the writer. I knew a mystery writer who started at the end and worked forward. I know others who have a habit of sketching in a scene then going back and putting notes of things that must be started or foreshadowed there, while writing other scenes in detail. If you have it plotted tightly, and know what will happen in every scene you can jump around.
But in general, most people tell the story as the story occurs, because as you change or add characteristics to the characters to make a scene work, it changes later scenes, which means a lot more rewriting might be necessary.
If this is your first novel I'd suggest trying it this way:
1. Take some time to learn the basics of what publishers look for in submissions. A scene on the page, for example, is very different from one on the screen. And point of view, which is critical for a reader identifying with your protagonist emotionally, is a lot more than simply which personal pronouns we use for the protagonist. Your local library's fiction writing section is a great resource for that. My personal recommendation is one of Jack Bickham's books, Scene and Structure, or 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, can often be found there.
2. Write the first chapter.
3. Look it over. Diagram the motivation/response units to be certain you have a handle on that. Check to be certain there's a clearly defined scene goal, and that you answer the three questions a reader wants answered early. Verify that tension enters early and that the reader will recognize it and respond. In other words, debug your technique a bit.
4. Write the story.
5. Edit at least twice. First to get rid of the "What in the hell was I thinking?" and once to tighten and add sparkle to the prose.
6. Put it aside for a time, so the next time you see it you'll be more a reader than the author.
7. Edit a few more times.
8. Go back, now that you have a feel for what the books were saying, and reread the one that helped the most.
9. Have the computer read it aloud so you to pick up awkward phrasing.
10. Do an edit for crutch words (often called filter words), things that should be contractions, overuse of the protagonist's name. Telling when showing would work better, and all the little things that creep in, like unbalanced quotation marks, double spacing between words and spaces before or after paragraph marks.
11. Maybe you're done, but the odds say you'll be editing it again.
I appreciate your methodical approach, Jay. Thanks for sharing.
I'd add that it's also a good idea to research the genre you've chosen. Each has their own constraints and expectations from readers. Read, read, read. Knowing what you love -- and why -- will strengthen your work.
By the way, I'm in complete agreement about hearing your work aloud. It makes such a difference to speak and hear your writing -- you'll quickly be able to see where you need help with rhyth, cadence, pace, as well as dialogue and voice. Also, great for proofreading.
--edited by Brandi Larsen on 5/13/2014, 9:22 AM--
I usually write non-linearly, usually as a time saver. I found that I'd lose a lot of time waiting for inspiration for the next scene in sequence, and jumping ahead to later scenes that I did have ideas for allowed me to finish sooner. When the first draft was written, I combed through it to make sure everything fit together and that I hadn't left anything out, had some other people look it over to make sure everything flowed and made sense, then made changes accordingly. It does mean a lot of jumping around to make sure everything connects properly, but I find this is what works for me personally.
It's like how filmmakers don't typically shoot their movies in order. They shoot in the order that fits everyone's schedules, do their principal photography, put the film together in the editing room, do re-shoots and pick-ups as necessary, and refine everything in post-production.
--edited by Ian Nathaniel Cohen on 5/13/2014, 10:09 AM--
I have written short stories with long incubation periods. I know the whole story before I get to the keyboard, and I start at the beginning and write until I stop at the end. I can't do that with a story longer than maybe 8,000 words.
I'm having a good time working on a novel, writing in a "non-linear" way. I wrote the first three chapters, then wrote the last two chapters, then went back to carry the characters from the beginning to the end. Now I'm adding and deleting scenes in the body of the book. The ending is important; I couldn't have written the middle without knowing what I was working toward, without knowing the end.
Thank you all so much for the input! It's extremely helpful, and has made my heart a little lighter starting on this thing. Ultimately, I have had the mindset of a filmmaker when working on this --mostly for the benefit of myself, because that is my real profession of choice, and because it helps me get into the story easier and work on timing of events and including details where I need them. So far, I think writing non-linearly will benefit me the most otherwise, as you said, I'll lose a lot of time waiting for muse.
Again! Thank you all so much. It really, really has helped!