Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm Sure I've Mentioned Before

At Saints and Sinners one year, Poppy Z Brite said, "You don't learn how to write A novel, you learn how to write this one." He probably doesn't remember saying something that useful, but that's okay. I'll remember for him. It's amazing how many times those words come back to me and how profoundly true I find them each time for completely different reasons. It's like a koan of writing.

My previous entry, I talked about linear writing versus - well, what should I call it? Smoke jumping? Passionate writing? Carpe sceneium (yes, that's fake Latin)? Okay, I'll call it non-linear writing. The topic on my mind right now is chapters.

When I wrote Chaos Magic II, I didn't break it into chapters as I wrote. There were some natural chapter breaks, but not all of them were clear. Also, I played around with the time line a lot because I felt as if I were front-loading a lot of information, and I wanted to avoid the dreaded info dump and get on with the damn story. Everything hinged on something else happening first , so I couldn't have the reaction before the action, but I didn't want chapter after chapter of heavy drama. Who wants to read that? Even Russian literature pauses in the gloom to breathe occasionally. (although the Russian version of "lightening things up" is still pretty grim)

Instead of numbering and renumbering chapters as I cut and paste huge blocks of text to get the sequence the way I wanted it, I left the chapter breaks out. When I was satisfied that everything balanced, the last thing I did was go in and create chapters.

The problem with that was that chapter breaks make it easier to rewrite. They're nice signposts in the middle of all those words. I tend to remember scenes by unique strings of words, so I had no problem moving around my document without the chapters marked. However, I think that if I had specific chapter separations in mind as I wrote, it might have helped me regulate the length of my chapters. I don't see anything wrong with varying chapter lengths, but it never hurts to get a scene wrapped up instead of going on too long.

The real question is: Would I write like that again? Well, I'm doing chapter breaks this time around, but there are big differences between this novel and the previous one. The final chapters of CM II had to fall on Beltane, but the time line of the rest of the story was open. For CM III, every chapter is tied to a major film festival or event in the Wiccan calender. I have to make things happen in a very specific order and by certain dates. That makes chapter breaks obvious and also stops me from moving events in the story back and forth through time. Rigid chapter breaks work for this novel. That's what I've learned writing this one. What will work for my next novel? I have no idea. I'll figure it out as I'm doing it.

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