Saturday, November 11, 2017

Taking the scenic route

I made another discovery last year, while drafting The Ashes of Home: The power of writing in threads and scenes.

I blogged in more detail about this last year, but the essence is that my entire manuscript at this point is a long series of scenes with only a few tentative chapter breaks marked in as yet. Alongside, I have a summary spreadsheet listing the scenes, a brief description of what the scene is about, and the scene’s point of view. The latter is color coded so the whole list provides a great visual for how much attention each of the main characters is getting throughout the story.

I found this approach really helpful in keeping up momentum along the different parallel threads of the story during the drafting phase. I could just get on with writing each point of view as its own story and worry about weaving them together later.

Now I’m into final edits, the power of this technique is showing itself again. There is one particular story line that I want to draw more to the fore. There was a whole hive of activity linking two of the main characters that I never articulated in the first draft, mainly because I wasn’t even aware of it. When I thought about it, it was obviously present but happening entirely off stage. I decided to bring it explicitly on stage, which means writing a series of new scenes, or additions to existing scenes, and weaving them back into the storyline.

If I’d worked directly on the manuscript, agonizing over where to edit in new material at the same time as trying to draft it, I think I’d have been paralyzed by the complexity of the task. Instead, I focused simply on the thread I wanted to weave in as if it were a complete story in itself. I jotted down notes about how that storyline would evolve and ideas about point of view and timeline.

The novel’s scene list helped here, giving me an overview of the story structure and making it easier to see where this new thread would fit naturally into the overall structure. Then I simply wrote the new scenes as if they were a standalone story.

I’m now in the process of editing the new material into the whole, and I have to report I’m very pleased with the effectiveness of this technique.


  1. It does sound like a useful technique. Good luck pulling this to completion.

  2. Hi Ian - well done ... I thought you were going to write about scenic routes on Vancouver Island ... but glad you were being educative and literary in your approach to your novel. Good luck with the editing ... cheers Hilary

  3. Stephen, I feel like I'm now pretty close to done.

    Hilary, sorry to mislead you with my play on words :)

    Alex, it has certainly worked well for me.

  4. It sounds like you're using a very scientific and organized approach to your writing, and I can see how it would be a benefit to do it that way. My first novel, I started out with a loose outline of what I wanted to accomplish in each chapter, so it was broken into chapters prior to writing a single word. My current book, however, has been a bit different. Even though I started with detailed analyses of my characters and story ark, the characters seemed to have minds of their own, and they refused to follow my plans. (The upstarts!) About a third of the way through, I stopped incorporating chapter breaks and figured I'd work it out during the editing process. It's actually worked out pretty well, but I'm not sure which approach I'll aim for with the next book. (Maybe I should let the characters decide...)

  5. Susan, having a novel already broken into chapters sounds hyper-organized to me! This technique allows me to keep writing despite not being organized and not really knowing how the flow is going to pan out until after I've written it :)


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