One of my friends is a professor of English, who teaches a variety of classes and courses.  He’s extraordinarily smart, making me feel a little daft at times to be honest, and he has what is a substantially different approach to novel-writing to me.  Where I write in a mainly front-to-back fashion, starting the novel at the beginning and then finishing it at the end, he writes scenes out individually when they strike them, having a beginning and an end that he’s thought of, and then tries to assemble them jigsaw-fashion to create his narrative arc.

This is a narrative arc, also mostly known as "what we mostly write without thinking, why do we need a diagram?"

This is a narrative arc.  Also makes a good hat.

He described to me how he printed out all the scenes he’d written, cleared all the furniture from the living room and then set about layering them between the two scenes, figuring out which one goes where with printed piles of scenes end to end.  I liked the image, partly because it reminded me of my hare-brained approach to things, even though at the time I thought it was massively different to how I write.

Now that I’m sitting here and tinkering with my own novel, I’m not sure it’s as different as I thought.

My first draft ended up being 94k words (which is, at best, only half of the complete, finished tale, and probably less than that.  It’s where I draw the line for a “volume 1”, mostly — a critical turning-point that opens a new, directly connected tale while, at the same time, closing the initial story-arc that the tale is built up around.  The break point allows me to take a step back, revise and rethink what comes next.)

My second draft is currently just short of 20k.  This is a mixture of about fifty percent new writing, forty percent directly copied from the original draft and the remainder a mix minor tweaks and edits.  But what I’ve noticed is that as I restructure the narrative arc, although some of the writing is completely new, some scenes get pulled in from the first draft and dropped into wherever they fit within the second draft’s progression.  Although some of the tale seems to be dependent upon the characters’ drive and direction, the specifics of where some of the scenes land is clearly more loose than I’d thought.

And what’s also clear about this is that, if you’re just writing scenes you like and that are individually strong, then you’re rarely going to end up in that “What happens next?” situation where you fill in the gaps between A and B with Scene That Seems Like You Need It, but Is Incredibly Dull and Crap.  I have a few of those scenes, and generally when I get around to editing, I cut out the entire scene and summarise the entire thing back down to a single sentence, if I can’t eliminate it completely.

All rambling nonsense really.  But I write a lot of this junk for myself, to get my ducks in a row.  And now it’s time to return to actually writing the novel, instead of rambling on about novel writing.

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