Write it now, part 12: disentangling that idea splurge

Over the past few weeks we’ve been exploring the way writing is structured, with an ever-closer focus.

This book of mine was pretty hard to structure - took a lot of re-working via the 'shuffle the pages' technique - to get a lot of social linear concepts into a single readable thread.

My account of the ‘musket wars’, published by Penguin in 2011, was pretty hard to structure – took a lot of re-working via the ‘shuffle the pages’ technique – to get a lot of simultaneous social concepts into a single readable thread.

This last post on structure takes us to the deepest level – the way paragraphs and sentences are arranged.

One of the biggest problems most writers have to face is translating the way we actually think and imagine things – which is usually as a ‘simultaneous picture’ – into writing, which is a single linear thread.

It’s failure to tackle this problem, I think, that produces non-fiction in which half the side-points are relegated to footnotes. And fiction riddled with flash-backs.

The key to the problem is deconstruction – being able to take that ‘simultaneity’ of ideas and fit them together in linear form. What comes first? The approach we looked at last time – ‘organising principle’ – works at this level too.

The best starting point is that old adage of starting big and moving on to detail. Say you’re describing a scene from a character’s viewpoint. Their first impression will always be the big picture, moving on to the details as they notice them. The nature of how they notice those details may be a reflection of their character – remembering that fiction is a way of taking readers on an emotional journey.

It’s often harder in non-fiction, where the organising principle may not be chronology, but a theme or idea. Different components have equal weighting in the big picture – making it difficult to figure out which one might come first. But, again, organising principles help.

The key point to bear in mind for all writing – non-fiction and fiction alike – is that it is taking the reader on an emotional journey. And sometimes, the nature of that journey can itself become a device for ordering the content.

Next –  look at some of the nitty gritty of novel writing, genre content and other stuff.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up this week: more sixty second writing tips, inspirations, geekery – and a spot of history.

About these ads

13 comments on “Write it now, part 12: disentangling that idea splurge

  1. M. Hatzel says:

    I suspect that this untangling is what we’re doing when we’re rewriting.

    • Indeed – it’s exactly what I did with ‘Guns and Utu’, in fact, and more than once. The issue there was specifically the ‘simultaneity’ problem, but knowing what the problem was didn’t entirely give me the answer, not helped by the fact that I already knew, as I wrote it, that the academic historical community here would conduct a hostile trawl of it for anything they could use to damage my repute.

      Some authors are lucky enough not to have to re-shuffle, re-vise and re-organise – but for most of us, re-write and disentangle is our fate…

      • M. Hatzel says:

        Thanks for sharing your experience; I now have an image of grey-haired academics trying to push you out of ‘their’ territory. I think that most of the complex, layered writing that I’ve read must happen in the rewriting process, even if only sections are reworked.

        • They’re not grey haired, some of them :-) Territorialism is a major problem here in NZ – exemplified by the moment when my name was mentioned to our recognised top historian, live on national radio. He instantly got angry and swore, somewhat to the discomfit of the interviewer. The funny thing is, the self-same work that has led to my being treated as a war criminal by the historical community here in NZ has been welcomed internationally – this to the point where the Royal Historical Society at University College in London elected me a Fellow on the merit of my international contribution to the field. Yeah…go figure.

          • M. Hatzel says:

            You hit a nerve. Canada, the land of the polite and socially-inclusive, is also a territorial snake pit on occasion. Some of our best authors fit into the ‘disowned’ category, for the honest ways that they write or the jealousy they inflame. I was at first disappointed with this, but I have to admit that the impulse to exclude and challenge is a common reaction to success (or mere presence) in any discipline. Unfortunately, not even intelligent people are immune, and academia can be very harsh in its criticism of rivals.

  2. bevrobitai says:

    Useful timing as always, Matthew. Just in time now that I’ve finished the first draft of the latest WIP and it’s time to begin editing. Good to have some pointers to things I should look for. I read another suggestion for the page shuffle technique – if you pick up a page at random and it doesn’t hook you into reading more, it needs strengthening. (Oh lord that could take an age with 80,000 words!)

    • Thank you! I And yeah, time is the enemy with 80,000 words and a lot of revisions. Funnily enough, I posted my version of that page-shuffle technique a couple of weeks back, using it to strengthen & in particular identify the ‘grabbability’ of content. Back in the days when we had a cat, the ‘feline selection’ method was always a good one to make it happen; I’d spread the pages on the floor. The cat would immediately go and sit on a page, which I’d then extract in order to check it over, figuring the cat had randomly picked that page.

  3. Many thanks Matthew for your latest blog. Just what I needed. I’m on the last leg of my novel and what you said about taking your readers on an emotional journey,picking up and reading through a random page,and describing what a character sees at first, etc. Wonderful stuff. I’ve had three weeks’ break so eager to get into it again. I’m almost there!

  4. stuartart says:

    Excellent tip Matthew. I’m a writer, but not a trained writer, so being exposed to these tricks and tips really helps me grasp ‘how’ I write already and how I can improve in the future. These little lessons will help me gain clarity in the future when I next get stuck. Thanks :)

  5. This sounds suspiciously like taking a suspect’s description in law enforcement. Overall height weight race etc. then starting either from the head or the feet, describe the details. Is this basically the same principle?

Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s