I grew up writing. For the longest time I had a rather serious problem. Most of my stories lost steam about a third of the way through and sat gathering dust.
Then one day I picked up The Outlandish Companion by Diana Gabaldon, writer of the bestselling Outlander series, and I discovered an amazing thing: you don’t have to write in a straight line.
What? But that can’t be right. A story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end, right? Of course. And you have to visit each of those things in order, right? Not necessarily.
Once I learned that I didn’t have to follow that story thread from start to finish in my writing, that I could stand outside of time, so to speak, and pop back into the story wherever the mood took me, my writing took off.
Now when I write, I see my story as a string of beads. I have a string, which is the rough outline of my plot. I have a beginning, I know where the story is going to end, and I know the direction it needs to take to get there. But along the way are a series of scenes—the beads. I pick up the beads out of the jumble in my imagination, and I can lay them where I want them to go in my manuscript. Then, when most of the beads are in place, I can fill in the gaps and string them all together. Voilà!
Sometimes a scene isn’t going to work with the overall story. So when I get to the stringing stage, I might have to let it go and try something else instead. But I find that the benefits of this approach far outweigh the occasional trouble of letting a scene go.
1. I actually finish the manuscript
2. I work more closely with my inspiration
3. I discover moments I might not have written otherwise
4. I uncover a new direction for the story to take
5. I identify scenes that just don’t work
Sometimes I do manage to write a story in a straight line. Otherworld was written from start to finish. And kudos to those who can do it every time. But when it doesn’t work to write linearly—such as with Across the Deep—I find the “string of beads” approach helpful.
What about you? How do you write?
Erin E.M. Hatton is the author of Otherworld and Across the Deep, winner of the 2014 Free Publishing Contest for Fiction. She has also authored several short stories and novellas. She graduated from Redeemer University College and lives in Barrie, Ontario with her husband Kevin and four children.
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