Author Topic: Writing linearly -vs- jumping around  (Read 1468 times)

lethalfalcon

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Writing linearly -vs- jumping around
« on: November 07, 2009, 09:18:11 PM »
I've started writing again recently, but I'm finding myself in the same predicament that I've always been in: I start writing the scenes that I have very clearly defined in my head (generally scenes of high action), and then have a lot of trouble trying to connect them together. It's not that the scenes are disconnected in the sense of continuity, but that they aren't chronologically together, and writing the connection bores me to no end. I like high action. I suppose if you were to think about making a movie out of a book I was writing, I've already done most of the work that would make it into the screenplay, and never got around to all the stuff that would be cut anyway.

So on with the question. Should I be writing linearly, even if it means I'll have to dog through all of the boring parts to get to the meaty stuff? Or is it better to get the parts I have spinning through my head down on paper, and just learn to write scene transitions better and/or more action-packed?
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Chaos

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Re: Writing linearly -vs- jumping around
« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2009, 10:37:41 PM »
In my first book, which I couldn't finish for exactly the same reason, I would jump around a lot. Mostly, I'd jump between viewpoints (I still do now). For my current book, however, I generally write linearly. I'm not going to suddenly skip from the third chapter of this viewpoint to the twentieth chapter of his. So in a way, while I switch viewpoints to keep it fresh for me, I'm doing it linearly.

Why? Well, with this new book, character is my biggest focus. I try to make the character's perception change with every chapter, which keeps it fresh. Because the characters' thoughts are always evolving, I need to write linearly. I have no idea what thoughts are going through his or her head a few chapters from now. I'd need to guess.

So I guess my answer to you is to make the characters as interesting as possible.
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Recovering_Cynic

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Re: Writing linearly -vs- jumping around
« Reply #2 on: November 08, 2009, 08:33:18 AM »
First, keep in mind, I'm no expert.  I am struggling through my first book as well and meeting the same problem.  That being said, here's what I've been doing:

Those really cool scenes that won't be happening for some time?  I don't write them; I do, however, outline them extensively, even the definite dialogue I want used.  I don't write them however, because I don't want to be cemented into keeping them that way when they may have to be altered after writing all the in between bits.

As to writing all the in between bits, what I've been doing (loosely speaking, it just solidified in my head that I was doing this) is writing down the events that must happen, e.g. character must fall in love, character must be found out as fraud, etc.  Now that I know what those events are that *must* happen, I think about the most interesting things that have to happen to make those events occur, and I write about those.  Not everything has to be action.  There must be aftermath, consequences to the action, and there can be found interesting things to write about in the consequences.  Similarly, building tension before your action sequense also makes for good, interesting reading (and fun writing too).  Interesting things that can be written about for your plot events to occur can take many forms: romance,  comedy, tragedy, etc.  You just have to make them as interesting as possible or people will never make it to your awesome action parts.


Just keep in mind, I"m learning this as I go, so there may be only so much wisdom in what I just said.
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lethalfalcon

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Re: Writing linearly -vs- jumping around
« Reply #3 on: November 08, 2009, 10:11:24 AM »
These all seem like very good ideas. I'm a little miffed that it's so hard for me to apply them.  My biggest (problem|curse|stupid idea) is that I don't do outlines. I don't want to say I can't, but my brain does a lot better when all the information exists in my head, and writing it down is usually a good way to get my head to forget it. That, and I'm lazy. I try not to do what most people consider "first drafts", either. I can't just write things. If they aren't right, they don't hit the paper. I also figure that if I'm going to go through all the trouble of outlining a scene extensively, I might as well just write the scene in its entirety, because word choice is very important in those subtle little details that would go into a detailed outline. Now this isn't to say I'm perfect (quite the opposite), but I'm quite the perfectionist when it comes to just about anything. People say, "well, you just need to get it down and learn to live with it. You can revise it later." I've tried. Those attempts are now digitally or physically shredded, because I'm not happy enough with them to keep them.

I'll give a (somewhat) short example. My current story has a main character that's trapped in a city (literally trapped--no way out). At the beginning of the book, I have a "getting to know her" sort of scene, where a couple of other characters (non-POV) are introduced as well. She's trying to learn enough about how to use her magic to get accepted into the mage academy, and this I can show easily enough. However, after this point, there is very little to show other than her learning magic (which will get boring really quickly for both me and the reader) until the point at which she takes the test, where she unleashes a bit more magic than anyone was expecting (there is a lot of back story behind this, but it's not something I want to reveal to the reader until after this point). So I have a period of about a year in story with very little going on (the city is stagnant for the same reason she can't get out). I suppose I could introduce some sort of romance (sigh) or something to build her more as a three-dimensional character, but thinking about it, maybe I'm just horrible at creating character-based events. I tend to want to develop a character directly through their actions, rather than through dialogue, or character-character interaction that doesn't involve explosions or the like.

As for other POVs, I have them, but this is also a collaborative work with one of my friends. We each have designated characters, and he seems to have all the exciting ones for the first third of the book. One of the major POVs I have I haven't really taken off the burner yet, so it's still rolling around in my thick skull. If I focus on him, though, I don't feel like I'll be doing any writing for a couple weeks at least, until I have enough solid material on him to do so. And I want to write now, dagnabbit.

Oh, and consequences are almost as fun to write about as what caused them in the first place. Nothing like the clean-up crew having their own issues from the events that originally transpired (especially with lingering magic--good times).
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Chaos

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Re: Writing linearly -vs- jumping around
« Reply #4 on: November 08, 2009, 06:27:30 PM »
Wow lethalfalcon, you and I are quite alike, it's kinda creepy. I used to HATE outlines with a fiery passion. It was all in my head, and it was awesome in my head. I thought outlines were a total waste of time. I've also done the collaborative projects, and those? They are hard.

In your specific case, I have two pieces of advice. One is a shameless plug for Patrick Rothfuss's book, The Name of the Wind. A huge portion of that book is about almost exactly what you're talking about: character goes to magic academy, and very little truly "happens". You think you're going to be bored to tears, but instead it's enthralling. So reading that might be an excellent jumping block for ideas. That, and it's an amazing book.

What makes Name of the Wind interesting? This leads me to advice #2: Conflict!

I think any interesting scene should have tension somewhere in it. Not necessarily "Oh my god if i don't dodge that dagger I'm dead" sort of tension, but somewhere. The best way to create tension is to have conflict. In writing my current book I've identified three important types of conflict: Internal conflict, interpersonal conflict, main conflict. Main conflict is more like the overarching conflict for the entire book. With individual scenes, internal and interpersonal conflict are far more powerful. To make good internal conflict, have a character who is going through change. Interpersonal conflict, I think, is the way you might want to go.

Yes, you could make a romance. Romance is hard; I really hate writing romance. But when you think about it, romance isn't fun to read when it's love at first sight. It's fun when you torture your characters when they consistently fail at romance, either by misunderstanding or something else. In this way, romance can be treated as an interpersonal conflict to overcome by the character. You don't have to do it this way, of course.

Another great interpersonal conflict which Name of the Wind uses is rivalry. New enemies are always fun! Rothfuss gave his main character, Kvothe, a rival named Ambrose, and it fleshed out things considerably. Especially when Kvothe wrote a very derrogatory song about Ambrose (Kvothe played the lute, you see.)

So there's an infinite amount of things you can do. Romance, rivalry, giving your main character a hobby. One final thing could be conflict with the setting itself, such as mysteries within the academy. This gives the character things to explore, and intrigues the reader with mysteries, too.

(If I may shamelessly plug, why don't you go join Reading Excuses? Quite helpful!)

Okay, I'm done rambling. For now.
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Frog

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Re: Writing linearly -vs- jumping around
« Reply #5 on: November 08, 2009, 06:47:21 PM »
Well you are getting a lot of advice here and I don't know how helpful I can be with all the particulars of your problem but there is one thing that came to me is this: don't write scenes or conflicts that don't appeal to you.

When you write a book, you tell people what is interesting/exciting by how you handle it and if you are bored they will be too. Even if the subject is something they might have been interested in if handled differently.

If you try to write a romantic conflict and you don't like romance EVERYONE reading it will be able to tell and even (or rather especially) those that like romance will murder you for it. Or at the very least stop reading. So until you can find something you like and bring out in the scene (some type of conflict like Chaos laid out) that scene is not ready to see the light of day. You might as well just leave it out and skip to where things get 'good.'

After all, as for your example, we've seen enough magical schools and the like that no one is going to be interested in reading about a completely lifeless one so until you think of something that interests you at the very least, you might as well just come in with: A year later, our hero was feeling ready to face any conflict and...

:P
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Chaos

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Re: Writing linearly -vs- jumping around
« Reply #6 on: November 08, 2009, 07:01:54 PM »
Well you are getting a lot of advice here and I don't know how helpful I can be with all the particulars of your problem but there is one thing that came to me is this: don't write scenes or conflicts that don't appeal to you.

When you write a book, you tell people what is interesting/exciting by how you handle it and if you are bored they will be too. Even if the subject is something they might have been interested in if handled differently.

If you try to write a romantic conflict and you don't like romance EVERYONE reading it will be able to tell and even (or rather especially) those that like romance will murder you for it. Or at the very least stop reading. So until you can find something you like and bring out in the scene (some type of conflict like Chaos laid out) that scene is not ready to see the light of day. You might as well just leave it out and skip to where things get 'good.'

After all, as for your example, we've seen enough magical schools and the like that no one is going to be interested in reading about a completely lifeless one so until you think of something that interests you at the very least, you might as well just come in with: A year later, our hero was feeling ready to face any conflict and...

:P

I second Frog entirely. Too true is it that if you write a scene and you are bored, the reader will be bored too. (Of course, the opposite is not true. If you think a scene is frickin' amazing, the reader might think it sucks. But if you aren't interested in the scene, readers definitely won't be interested)

If the mage academy is a pivotal part of the book, perhaps it's best to flesh it out. If it's not, skipping over the boring parts might be a better idea, especially if this is only one fragment of a much larger, epic story.

The difficulty with collaborative projects is that it's hard to stagger the action between the different viewpoint characters you each control. A section might seem a bit bereft of action now, but once it's all melded together, it may seem perfectly fine to the reader.
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lethalfalcon

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Re: Writing linearly -vs- jumping around
« Reply #7 on: November 08, 2009, 07:13:32 PM »
Chaos, I think you've hit the nail on the head. I just need more conflict. A good part of it is that she's not supposed to even be in the academy, because she hasn't passed the test. Some of the councilors (the heads of the respective schools of magic) are fine with her, but others want her out. I should probably expound on that.

Also, she has problems with her mother, who's the head of a large textiles industry, and one of the seamstresses (vertical integration, yay!) that the city has come to depend upon since they're trapped. Mommy wants her to take over the business, and she has no intention of doing so. I want to get more into the city, how they're all getting cabin fever, too, and how things are really tight now that they have to be completely self-sufficient. These are all things my main character can deal with.

Romance... probably not. Even though I consider myself an expert on the subject of failed romance (it's all I'll ever know, -sob-), I don't know that I want her to delve into that much. She'd probably be more likely to just shut a man down than to entertain anything of the sort. She has better things to do than settle down and live "happily ever after". She wants to be a battlemage, if she can figure out how to get her magic to work right.

As for reading excuses, I thought about joining it, but wasn't sure how intrigued people would be by me posting my random scenes. I'm certainly open to critiquing others' works (although beware, I tend to be a grammar nazi, so I'd have to try to restrain myself there), but I think a lot of people would be confused by me posting a standalone scene that depends on a lot of backstory that's stuck in my head still.
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Chaos

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Re: Writing linearly -vs- jumping around
« Reply #8 on: November 08, 2009, 07:30:26 PM »
Seems like you have plenty of conflict, so write about it :)

As for reading excuses, I thought about joining it, but wasn't sure how intrigued people would be by me posting my random scenes. I'm certainly open to critiquing others' works (although beware, I tend to be a grammar nazi, so I'd have to try to restrain myself there), but I think a lot of people would be confused by me posting a standalone scene that depends on a lot of backstory that's stuck in my head still.

A new member read a person's 16th chapter without any background, and it was quite a substantial critique. You can pick up a lot from a single scene, even if we may be confused a tad. You might as well go and join up! We won't bite. Too much, at least.

Grammar nazis have found the effective strategy of sending their line-level issues in an email, rather than posting them. They're so clever... ;)
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Frog

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Re: Writing linearly -vs- jumping around
« Reply #9 on: November 08, 2009, 10:33:43 PM »
She has better things to do than settle down and live "happily ever after".
Better is all relative. Knock the fairy tales too much and you will have a very disgruntled Frog on your hands. :P

Sounds good though. Good luck, and welcome to the group. (I say here so I don't have to post again in RE. I am extremely lazy like that.) I'll look forward to seeing what you come up with. :)
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Recovering_Cynic

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Re: Writing linearly -vs- jumping around
« Reply #10 on: November 08, 2009, 11:23:36 PM »
I'd say go ahead and join the group (if you haven't already).  If you feel like we need some backstory to understand your scene, you can usually summarize it in a few paragraphs.

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Re: Writing linearly -vs- jumping around
« Reply #11 on: January 01, 2010, 12:43:58 PM »
Man, I saw your post, and was headed to answer it. Then I read the replies and realized they'd already said everything I could. I'll condense my points into two numbers.

1. You need more conflict. That's what will make those boring parts better, and therefore easier to write without falling asleep.

2. As for outlining, I used to hate it, but now I'm a big fan. I've found that if I outline each scene with a reminder of who the POV is, What the conflict is, and what that character's reaction to the conflict is, (AKA Scene and Sequel) things move along much more smoothly for me. Everything I learned about the absolute basics of scene and sequel I got from Dwight V. Swain's book Techniques of the Selling Writer. It's old as dirt, but the basic formula for writing a scene and a sequel is priceless for the first-time novelist. It's part of what I like to call the Holy Trinity of Noob Books. It's in there with Characters and Viewpoint by Card and Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. You really can't go wrong with the Trinity in my opinion.
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