You start at the beginning and go from there – unless you don’t. Contrary to popular belief, there are as many ways to write a novel as there are novels. You can’t do it wrong unless you never do it at all. It’s a nice idea, putting down a story in the way a reader will approach it, but the process doesn’t always mirror the finished product. A portrait is a portrait, no matter what kind of technique you use or how many layers of paint go into the making. The same principle applies to writing. Here are some of the unsung, non-traditional novel-writing styles.
Writing from the Middle
Strange as it sounds to linear writers, some great ideas blossom out from the center. They begin with an established setting, a cast of characters, and a plot already in motion. Sometimes, instead of introducing yourself to the world, you find yourself in the middle, and the story spreads out. The writer can work backwards to make the pieces fit, but they jump in feet-first, away from any dangerous or distracting edges.
The Scene Collector
Technically, all novels are made of scenes. However, those scenes don’t always come holding hands in an orderly fashion. A story may arrive in your mind as a collection of scenes. It may arrive one scene at a time – often out of order, occasionally with context. Since great novels are built from great scenes, this works perfectly. Redrafting can be confusing, but the scene collector’s best friend is a stack of index cards during revision.
A Few Words at a Time
According to Hollywood, great writers bang out a first draft in a week. In movies the protagonist takes no more than a month or picturesque seasonal montage – max – to create the next best-seller. In reality, slow and steady often wins the race. If you’re a writer who can only manage a paragraph, line, or sentence at a time, you aren’t alone, and you aren’t failing. Every line is a win, and they’ll add up faster than you realize. Word count goals simply don’t work for everyone. These writers have long-term relationships with their early drafts, and words drip rather than rush. Sometimes, because so much attention has gone into every line, they have a lot less editing to do.
Out and About
Not all writers have dedicated writing times or spaces. While many of us have great ideas that we jot down on napkins, scrap paper, and menus while we’re away from our computers, some write that way all the time. The majority of their novels and short stories come together through little pieces accumulated while doing something else. A rough draft may be a collection of notes and paragraphs on concert programs and flyers. Putting these pieces together in a full draft seems daunting to the rest of us, but it’s natural for these roving writers. It’s a game of connect-the-dots, and in the end, they still have a story. They also have a lot to commiserate over with the scene collector crowd.
How do you write? Have different novels arrived in different shapes, or do you find you typically follow the same pattern again and again? Share your thoughts and tips with other writers below!