Writing in Chunks

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Paul Whybrow

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Jun 20, 2015
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Cornwall, UK
We’ve discussed methods of plotting many times on The Colony, including the eternal Planner versus Pantser conundrum.

The recent thread How do you keep track of your novel's inner world...? started by @KateESal threw out a lot of ideas with praise for Scrivener. We considered a story’s theme in a thread What the hell is this about? started by @Rich.

For my own part, I’m by nature a pantser, but I do make flexible plans for where the plot will go, including what themes I want the story to tackle. My last Cornish Detective story had the theme that relationships and enjoying the free gifts provided by nature are more important than chasing money and owning possessions.

I’ve long been in the habit of keeping folders on my desktop (the better to jog my memory) full of documents for different subjects, such as autopsies, forensic medicine, psychology and poisons to do with my crime writing. I have lists of character names to draw on. Cornish names are distinctive. For example, the murder victim in my new story lives at Tredizzrick Cottage, a name that makes your mouth buzz as you say it! :rolleyes:

To aid future writing projects, I also write conversations for theoretical situations, such as my detective protagonist’s attitude to capital punishment or guns or prostitution. I don’t know if I’ll ever use them, but they’re useful to have.

I’ve done little creative writing this year, beleaguered by problems with blogging, website designing and computer hardware and software. But, I’ve finally made a start on Book 6 Kissing & Killing. I intended the theme to be loyalty at the expense of upholding the law, but I was puzzled about how to tackle the story. Not blocked, more that my mind was still fretting about SSDs, blog security, posting on social media, memory stick scams and how to format an external hard drive.

The best way to solve writing obstacles is to write around them. I felt obliged to write an opening chapter explaining my protagonist’s state of mind, as he was in a coma at the end of Book 5. After that, I’ve been writing chapters in self-contained chunks, uncertain how I’ll connect them. In one, the detective is approached by an estate agent who’s just sold a remote property to a middle-aged paranoid man who behaved like he had hell hounds on his trail. In another chapter, a man out searching for roadkill to eat finds a youngster’s corpse inside a rock salt container on the verge. In a third chapter, the detective visits the remote cottage, responding to a 999 call, to find it awash with gallons of blood, but no body is present...has the corpse been taken away or is the paranoid owner faking his own death?

Eventually, I’ll tie these stray chapters together to conform to the three-act structure.

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This way of writing is a bit like the cut-up method popularised by William Burroughs and used by David Bowie and Thom Yorke to write song lyrics:

Cut-Up Machine

It feels more like building blocks. It’s a stimulating way of forming a story, though it’s making me think in a multiple points of view way.

Have any of you gone off-piste in unconventional ways?

iu
 
I can imagine RL Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott sitting in some cosy parlour somewhere with a couple of glasses of fine malt... laughing their kilts off at all this discussion of structure.
Or Shakespeare and Marlowe all but fighting a duel over 3-act versus 5-act.
 
The short answer to your question is no.

But as I become newly acquainted with Scrivenor, it's definitely a useful tool for the "chunking" or cut-up approach to putting a novel together, as it's easy to swap events around and visualise where you might slot in different scenes and events.

I can see how that could be extremely useful!
 
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