Saturday, 28 June 2008

Good and Bad things happening in the w-i-p

Something very gratifying ocurred this week in the work in progress. I’ve known since the beginning of the book that a certain thing happened between two of the main characters but what I didn’t know was why. Now I do. It just emerged one day from thinking about the characters and what was happening to them at the time. It was a relief as I’m heading inexorably towards the scene where this event happens and I was beginning to worry that it wasn’t going to happen at all as the motivation wasn’t there. But now it is and I’m left thinking, ‘of course that’s why it happened, how could it be otherwise?’

I find this whole process – that of knowing that things must happen but having to find out through familiarity with the characters exactly why they happen – to be simultaneously baffling and fascinating. And, in its fascination, it’s one of the things I love most about writing, the fact that these characters have become so real to me that watching them interact explains the reasons behind events I imagined before I knew them.

Another gratifying thing was that I wrote a scene I was very pleased with. It was something a little out of the ordinary and I knew it was going to be a difficult thing to get right but, after a couple of days I found I’d achieved what I set out to do in terms of action, voice and emotional interplay.
And then the bad thing happened. The following day, when I came to review the scene and move on to the next, I realised that it didn’t fit.
As a rule, I tend to write chronologically, writing scenes in the order in which they’ll be read rather than employing a cut-and-paste technique where scenes get written as they occur to me and are then slotted in when their moment appears to have arrived. And this just wasn’t the next scene. I had thought it was for various reasons but, once I’d written it, I realised that it had the effect of brining things in one narrative thread to a head much too soon. But all is not lost – the scene still has a place in the book, it’s just much later on. Because it will now be out of the immediate narrative flow, putting it in later will inevitably entail some re-writing as things will have moved on in various directions but, nevertheless, I think the bulk of it will be useable.

Thankfully, I don’t tend to write scenes in the wrong place too often. What I do have a tendency to do is to write scenes which don’t actually belong in the book. I write them and I read them the next day and I think ‘this is OK but it doesn’t need to be in the book. It’s too long, the same effect can be achieved by putting in a few lines somewhere else. Then again, sometimes I think I’m going to sit down to write one kind of scene but a chance remark by one of the characters (this happens a lot in dialogue scenes which is why there’s quite a lot of dialogue in my books – I need to hear my characters interacting) takes it in quite another – usually much better – direction.

All of which makes it sound as if my method of constructing a book is chaotic verging on anarchic. Not so. I go for weeks just putting scene after scene after scene, like a brickie putting one course on top of another to make a wall, then a room, then a house. I reckon I’m halfway up the first floor (second if you’re in the US) at the moment and the roof’s in sight. Windows and the rest of the ‘making the house watertight’ I consider to be final draught stuff. We’re not quite there yet but I know what sort of windows I need and I’m pretty sure they’re available.

Oh, and the other thing I’m happy about this week is the way I haven’t allowed Wimbledon to get in the way of work. I watched my first match today – Murray v. Haas. It was a good one to have saved up.
(For those of you who didn’t see it/aren’t interested, Andy Murray, the young Scot, won in four sets. Except… why am I telling you if you’re not interested?)


David Isaak said...

I tend to write chronologically, too. But when you don't really know where things are headed, I suppose that's inevitable.

I often throw in elements or events just for color or background (or for no reason at all), and later find they transform into vital bits of the plot. If I didn't write chronologically, I'd probably never find out what these elements were for.

KatW said...

I've recently learnt that I am better writing chronologically. It seems to focus me. I've tried writing and then patchworking but it seems to end up with me getting rather confused and frustrated. Kat :-)

Tim Stretton said...

I think the process of discovering what happens--and particularly "why happens"--is one of the most rewarding aspects of writing. Not everyone works this way: I don't know whether it's urban myth, but I've heard from more than one source that Jeffrey Deaver storyboards every scene in meticulous detail, and then goes on to write the scenes as designed. That's too much like building flat-pack furniture to work for me...

Alis said...

Hi Kat - patchworking is a term I've applied in my mind more than once to the wip, even though I'm writing it chronologically, as there are various elements to the story and sometimes it feels as if I'm building a crazy-paving path rather than a linear narrative.

Hi Tim, Yes I agree. Once you knew the whole book, with exactly what happened and - as you say - why, what would be the excitement of writing it? Apart from making the ideas work, obviously, which has a certain excitement value all of its own...

Tim Stretton said...

"sometimes it feels as if I'm building a crazy-paving path rather than a linear narrative"

Straight lines are boring, though, aren't they? You know from the start where they're going to end up...

Neil said...

Crazy paving sounds like a perfectly constructed brick wall from where I'm sitting. Ah, but to be able to place one brick atop another, side by side, layer by layer.

Alas, my walls are more like this:

x x x

x x x x x x x x

x x


x x x x x x x x x x x

x x x x x x

x x x x

x x x x

x x x x x x x x


David Isaak said...

Apparently Neil works with a corbelling approach.

If I get a chance to review his next book, I'll toss that in to the review. "This novel's brilliantly corbelled plot..."

That ought to puzzle folks.