In ‘The Hours’ by Michael Cunningham, one of the three storylines follows Virginia Woolf as she spends hours and hours pondering over the first line of her book, “Mrs. Dalloway”. It’s a familiar way to show the writing process in popular culture and, knowing Woolf, it’s probably a good depiction of the way she worked. But the biggest bit of advice I would give any budding writer is “it doesn’t have to be like that!” One of the best ways to write is to slice your book up into scenes.
Just get it down
Some writers do work in a “straight line”, waiting for inspiration to strike chapter by chapter. But personally, I think it’s better to get it down in any order you can. Can’t think of a first line? Skip to the second. Struggling with chapter five? Move on to chapter nine. Better yet get rid of your idea of chapters altogether at the start. Get into those parts of your book you’ve been playing with since inspiration first struck – no matter where they are in the overall plot.
Focus on scenes
A novel can be broken down into a series of scenes. These could show anything from the passing of time to a car chase to a collection of thoughts. Each one is a step that develops your characters and tells your story. It’s easier to do this if you’ve planned out your plot, as you can quickly identify scenes and have an idea of your characters state of mind in each one. But even for a “Pantser”, there’s no reason you can’t skip forward and back as you write – it just might be trickier when it comes to putting it all together!
Identify weak spots
If you find yourself avoiding certain scenes, then you have the chance to ask yourself why. Perhaps the characters involved need more fleshing out. Or maybe the scene itself needs to be completely overhauled or even removed entirely. If you find it a chore to write, it will likely be a chore to read. This doesn’t mean it’s not worth writing, it may be that you just need to get it out to be able to edit it into shape. But it helps to identify any weak spots in your book.
Easily juggle your timeline
Even if you have a planned out plotline, there’s no reason you need to stick rigidly to it. With your book divided into scenes, you can play around with the best way to move from one to the next. You could try jumping around in your timeline to see if it adds more weight to your prose. You may find that two scenes you think should flow together simply don’t and you another one is a better fit.
Some writing software makes it very easy to write in pieces and move and thread them together. But even using plain word docs, as long as you keep them well-named or numbered against an overall plan should work just as well.
What do you think? Do you write in a linear fashion or skip about? Do you divide your books into scenes? Let me know in the comments?