Assembling Blocks

The process of writing a novel is not a straightforward one, even when you have mapped out a complete outline beforehand. That’s because you may become interested in a character unexpectedly, or you write a scene whose drift leads in an unplanned direction that has knock-on effects with later scenes. How can you lessen the amount of time spent writing scenes you’ll later throw out?

Before suggesting an answer, I’ll first note that nothing you write is truly wasted. Sometimes you can’t find the right path until you lose interest in the original one you thought was promising. For instance, you may have planned to make a father distant because he travels all the time, but as the novel progresses, you realize that he’s not getting enough scenes for you to get any payoff from his distance. Those early scenes you wrote with him and a child? If nothing else, it helped you to understand what makes the child tick.

Other scenes may not have to be scrapped, however. Let’s say you originally intended for an older sister, the one the parents deem to be perfect, ends up embezzling money. Yet halfway through you realize that you really want her to marry a creep. When you examine the scenes between the two siblings, you may find that all you have to rework is the material leading toward the thievery. It could be that you have an assortment of wonderful thoughts by the younger sibling about their relationship, as well as some great backstories from childhood. Why do they have to change? Because scenes are mostly local—in terms of where they are located in the novel—the level of tension you are developing can remain much the same. You swap out some dialogue, a few thoughts, and keep the rest. You might even keep all the stuff about the sister’s company if you haven’t revealed the embezzlement yet.

Paying attention to what is interesting you as the novel develops also cuts down on wasted effort. Because a writer can have so many thoughts about what to put in a book, these points of interest may be only flashes that then recede to the back of your mind. If you get in the habit to jotting them down, using a separate file, you can then set up an appointment on your calendar to visit those thoughts every week. Pulling back from the minutia of a single scene to keep reviewing the larger picture will allow you to weigh possible new turns. Just as important, you’ll start to see which ones have promise and which ones are just a flash in the pan.

Exercise: The same review process can work for files on your major characters. If you jot down what new developments intrigue you, you’ll start to notice that certain character files are growing in length each week. You’re drawn to them, so you should do more of that.

“Quite casually I wander into my plot, poke around with my characters for a while, then amble off, leaving no moral proved and no reader improved.”                      —Thorne Smith

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.