Monday, November 30, 2009

Linear vs. nonlinear story telling

As writers most of us know the difference between pantsers and plotters. I'm a pantser...hands down. I have some vague notions of a beginning middle and end but then I sit at my computer and let my characters go and they tell me their story. I merely take dictation (most of the time).

You'd think the plotters would be the linear types. The ones that need to start at the beginning and proceed to the end following the threads of the plot(s) to their logical conclusions. Then you'd think the pantsers are all over the place. Able to write an early scene that grabs them here, a scene from late in the book there...and so on.

Well, it ain't necessarily so. I'm a total pantser, but I'm a linear story teller. I have to start at the beginning and keep going. I might make notes if I have an idea for a great scene later on in the book, but I usually need to get there first and then I write the scene. My later scenes build on the early scenes.

At least that's the way it always used to work. I'm writing a short story right now where I'm having real trouble getting the sex scenes to move...and trust want the sex scenes to move! You know? But in order to get to "the end" I have had to skip the sex scenes. I'm still writing in a linear fashion, but now I'll have to go back in to the story to add scenes later, but at least the story is moving along at this point. This is the first time I've really done any sort of "skipping around." And even so, it's not really skipping around. I'm still moving in a straight line.

So does anyone have any tips as I travel uncharted waters? What's your process? Are you a linear plotter? A nonlinear plotter? A nonlinear pantser? Or like me are you a linear pantser? How do you get to "the end"?

And...I want to do a blatant promotion. Tomorrow on my blog (Francesca's Mindstream), I will be hosting author Jeanne St. James. She interviews Mace Walker, the hero of one of her new books, Banged Up. After you visit the Shapeshifter crew, stop by and say hi to Jeanne.


Savanna Kougar said...

Francesca, I don't how much help I'll be, however, I generally prefer to write linear, overall, and I'm a pantser, unless the plot presents itself. Then I write it down, of course.
Yep, in some of my stories, I'll have a scene that appears or daydreams in my mind that takes place later in the story. I'll do my best to remember, write it down, outline it.
A lot of the time those scenes are like guide posts toward where I'm going in the story.
Or, they explain something about the heroine or hero I need to know, previous to getting there.

Crystal Kauffman said...

I'm like Savanna-- and this works for me because I get to know my characters as the book progresses, just like the reader should. They develop as the book does, just like a new friendship might for you. Of course once it's done and I know how I arrive at THE END, I can go back and slip in tidbits of foreshadowing here and there, but for the most part I like to learn about my characters as I'm writing them. They reveal some interesting secrets along the way!

Serena Shay said...

If there is such a thing as a plantser than that's me. ;) My characters usually come to me in a flash of pictures, not unlike a movie. Once we jot down the chap/scene ideas(minor plotting) we pantser the rest of the way through. It works great for me until someone slips a "surprise" in on me!
As for the liner part, well that's what I strive for, but if a scene jumps into my head and won't leave, I'm better off just to write it at the bottom of the page and leave it until it fits.
Thank Goodness for Editing!!

Anonymous said...

Add me to the linear pantser brigade. I know how the story starts (sometimes) and pretty much know how it ends. Getting from Point A to Point B is the fun part. I try to start at the beginning and go linear, but a lot of times random scenes will occur to me out of order, usually character revelations or heavy emotional stuff. I write these down while they're nagging at me and keep them handy for when it's time to plug them into the narrative. Unfortunately, by the time I hit that point in the story the whole thing's mutated so that what I originally wrote doesn't fit any more. I find my best inspirations hit while I'm actually working, as I get to know the people and the story they're trying to get me to channel. As for those extra scenes, well, if they don't fit this story, hang on to 'em. Maybe they'll work in the next one. No writing is ever wasted.

Pat C.

Francesca Hawley said...

Crystal, you're right. It is a lot like getting to know the characters. The more I write them, the better I get to know them.

"No writing is ever wasted."
Pat - not a truer word was ever spoken. I get inspired while I'm getting from point A to point B too and if I do write down a scene, out of sequence the story changes drastically by the time I get to it.

Savanna - yes, I have those guidepost kinds of scenes too. Usually they are important turning points or big emotional moments in the story. I have it in the back of my mind what I want to say, but usually don't write it until I get to that scene.

Serena - plantser - I love that! I see my entire book visually - almost like a movie so I can relate to what you say. I too have characters that slip me surprises. The surprise are either a lot of fun or I want to smack the characters into next week for pulling a fast one on me. :-)

Thanks for the comments ladies, and it's good to know I'm not alone in being a linear pantser.