Writing Styles – Ups and Downs of Jumping Around

I am about 50,000 words into my very first draft.  This is a pretty significant milestone for me since historically I have petered out around 15,000 pages.  I know the final product of this book is going to be somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 words.  I’m not sure where it lands yet, but I can ballpark around there.  I’m fairly pleased with how far it has come compared to my other works.

What makes this one different?

1) Nanowrimo.  I’ve said positive things about Nanowrimo before, but I’ll say them again.  When you have a high word count that you are trying to fulfill, and you aren’t under the pressure of trying to finish for a writing contest or something thereabouts, you are more free with just letting the words flow from your fingers onto the page.

I guess time will tell whether or not the volume is ultimately creating a better project than smaller encapsulated projects that I actually polish.

2) Subject Matter – The story is being written for a universe I have mostly created called Greyscape.  This setting is being worked on by a few other individuals because it is the backdrop for a card game I am co-developing (http://www.greyscapegame.com, shameless plug!).  This creates a sense of urgency around it.

3) I’m jumping around while I write it.  I’m going to expand on this point for this post. Before I dive there, I want to make a quick note:  You’ll notice I didn’t include this reason:  “I really, really want to be a published author… Super bad.”  That’s definitely a true statement, and led me to creating this blog.  However, that feeling also led me to writing tons of 500-1000 word brick-a-brack, and reading dozens of writing books.  It didn’t help me make progress on one.

Back to Jumping Around

Jumping around in the story was never something I’ve tried before.  I typically have tried to write chronologically, letting the characters dictate what is going to happen, and then flowing from one thing to the next. I got to this point using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson.  If you aren’t familiar, check it out.

Whether you are a plotter or pantser, it’s a good way to grow a story and a useful tool to have in your arsenal. I’ll summarize what you do:  You start by writing a sentence summarizing your story.  Then you expand the sentence and write a paragraph summarizing your story.  Then you expand the paragraph and write a page summarizing your story.  Then you do four pages (there’s some filler steps in the middle to flesh out characters more).  Each stage takes your story and adds detail.  It lets you really get to the heart of it.

What I found using this method is that by the 4-page version, I’m feeling comfortable enough with it I’m ready to go ahead and hit the gas on my draft.  After all, I have a 4-page outline summarizing the story to use as guidelines, and the rest just needs to flow. The problem is that while I write the story, I hit a road block (or we can call it a writer’s block, your choice).  The roadblock feels like it has to be overcome before I can write more.  Thus the story stalls.  A few times, I would write some weak narrative and push the story forward, resolving to come back on the second draft.

Ultimately though I hit a block I can’t get through with where I am, and the story stops… Or even worse, I start working on another story “just until I get past the block” and now I have another story that’s keeping me from finishing my first.

Now I jump around as I write.  It has a few benefits:

1) When you have that scene you just can’t get out of your head, write it!  Don’t worry about the fact that you aren’t there yet.  Write the parts you are excited about.  Ride your enthusiasm.

2) When you add a new plot element or character, you can stay on that topic and add it to the different points in the story where you might need it.  This lets you make sure your threads are deeply interwoven rather than forgotten or added suddenly.

3) It helps ensure you keep writing.  I would find that as I jump to write a different scene, once I feel the momentum going, I am able to move back to an earlier scene and start filling in the blanks.  If I hit a roadblock again, I jump back to something fresh. 4) It lets you explore things you might not use.  You might right some exposition about one of your characters in a scene you envision at the bar… The bar was never in the story, and maybe it still won’t be, but by exploring that scene, you are exploring your character, whether the scene makes it to the book, gets referenced in the book, or never comes up at all. Sounds too good to be true, right?  There are a few pitfalls to keep in mind.

1) Continuity becomes an issue.  Great for threading something through the whole story, but the problem is that as your story adjusts, it becomes difficult to find all the scenes where a change you make on the fly gets resolved.  Example:  I have a great supporting character… We’ll call him Fred.  I write some great scenes with Fred.  I even have this really touching moment at the end of the book that I really see in my head.  A month later I’m writing a scene in the middle of the story where I’m escalating the tension and Fred dies.  That’s it.  Fred’s Dead.  But I have an ending involving Fred really confessing his love for the main character.  What am I supposed to do with that?  The relationship hadn’t built up enough early on for me to just move the scene to earlier in the story, but I really feel like Fred needs to die where I killed him.  Now what? In these situations, you might introduce a new character, say, George to take Fred’s place later.  You might have to cut one scene or the other completely.

2) Character behavior gets a little schizophrenic.  As I’ve covered 50,000 words, my main character has adjusted quite a bit.  As I read the story, things he values or ways he responds to situations jumps around because when I wrote him a month ago, he acted a certain way (and did so at multiple areas in the book).

3) Finding some of the gaps can start getting tricky.  As you start getting scenes exploding out the ying-yang, remembering where you’ve skipped some transitions can get tough.  You end up needing to read your story linearly periodically as you write to make sure you haven’t left something out.

4) This might suck to do with Google Docs.  I’d recommend using a non-linear writing tool like Scrivener.  Something where you can easily move scenes and jump to them.  Trying to do this in a conventional word editor feels like fighting words.

So that’s Jumping Around in a nutshell.  What about you all?  Do you write chronologically, or do you jump around?  What are some of the pros and cons of each?


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