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Are You Linear Also, Friend?
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I'm a linear writer. I begin at the beginning, and write straight through to the end. I don't write scenes out of order, apart from necessary backfilling and writing new scenes during revision. But in a first draft, I just run straight through. I've always resisted writing scenes out of order, because of a fear that I'd wind up writing all the cool scenes first, the big set-pieces and dramatic moments, and I'd drag my feet on writing the connective tissue, set-up, build-up, etc. -- all the elements that make the dramatic moments more dramatic. I bribe myself with those big flashy cool scenes. I know they're coming, so I write more quickly and frequently so I can get to the point where I'm allowed to write them. This linear technique is also useful, especially in novels, because it helps me prevent my middles from sagging. I don't want to get bored with the writing process, so I tend to put cool stuff in the middle to keep myself excited and engaged. This straight-through approach has always been my technique, for as long as I can remember.

Except, in the new novel, I'm writing scenes out of order.

Part of it is the weirdness of this whole book. Here's the background: in 2000, I started a novel called Ferocious Dreamers, featuring my ass-kicking sorcerer, Marla Mason. I'd written a couple of stories about her and thought she could sustain a book. I wrote about 50,000 words of that book... and then crashed and burned. The novel just went completely off the rails, plotlines proliferating, loose ends everywhere, no central narrative cohesion, etc. There were good ideas, good characters, and even a few good scenes, but it wasn't working as a book. So I trunked it. Then, a couple of years ago, I wrote Blood Engines, which also features Marla Mason, and realized it could be the first in a series. So I went back to Ferocious Dreamers, lopped off the last twenty thousand words (where things really started to go wrong), rewrote the first chapter, started excising chunks of it and rearranging other chunks... and then realized it was dumb to spend that much time on a sequel when I hadn't even sold the first novel.

Then I sold the first novel. And the sequel, based on an outline and that revised first chapter (which is no longer actually the first chapter, but that's the way it goes sometimes). So now I've got about 30,000 words of intermittently usable first draft, and I'm cherry-picking the good scenes from that, all while writing new scenes, with new subplots, etc.

So this is already a really odd and non-linear process. It's a totally different way of writing a novel, for me. Last night I wrote a scene that takes place the morning after two of my characters have sex, before I've even written the scene where they meet. It's not a big fancy set-piece, it's just some dialogue, and sets up some plot points, and covers some emotional territory. It just felt like the right scene to write -- it was there, complete in my mind, in a way the scene of their meeting isn't, yet. Will I go on this way? Will I wind up with a crazy-quilt I have to stitch together? Will I settle down into a linear rhythm once I get past the salvageable parts of the novel into the all-new territory of the last two-thirds? I don't know. We'll see. It's kind of exhilarating, and scary, honestly.

My fellow writers: Are you linear?



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