Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Chaotic Writing II: 
Like One Giant Jigsaw Puzzle...

By Jon Chaisson
© 2003, Jon Chaisson

 

kay, so I've got my sequel here in front of me, and I've gotten to chapter nineteen, when it suddenly dawns on me—I think may have just prematurely ended this novel.  How did I pull that one off?  Well, for starters, I'd planned the second book to end just before the major "climax" of the series.  I knew exactly where I was going to end this one:  the night before a major psychic war which takes up the entirety of book three.  Call it jumping the gun, but I think I was so eager to get to the nitty-gritty that I didn't take this second book seriously enough.

So what do I do with these nineteen chapters of a story that leads up to that cataclysmic event?  Try to stretch it out to about the same length as the first book (about eighty chapters)?  No, I don't think that would work.  That would be too much like the term papers I used to write in college, and I never got brilliant grades on those.  How about starting over from scratch?  No.  I'd already built up a great major plotline for this book that I didn't want to lose.

And then it hits me—that's it!  That was my problem!  All I had was the major plotline!  Upon reading what I'd had so far, I realized I'd left out virtually all the secondary characters, completely forgotten some dangling subplots, and essentially dropped any hint of spirituality and psychic ability I'd peppered throughout the first book!  I knew quite a few of my secondary characters (and a few third-tier ones) had important roles in this and the third book, but I'd left them out somehow.  I was too focused on writing the scenes with the three major characters.

Well, one crisis resolved, and another one reveals itself:  now what do I do with this story?

The first thing I did was take a week off.  No, really!  I tore myself away from the book and worked on other projects—namely, working on submitting the first novel manuscript to agents and publishers—to take my mind off of it. 

Once I returned, the ideas came to me at full force.  The antagonist in the first book had hinted—in a roundabout way—that he was working alongside a higher power.  Thus, the first major subplot to add in:  the Higher Power Enters.  The first line of the book is the Higher Power (in this case, he's a deity) introducing himself in the creepiest way—unthreatening, except for the fact that he's talking inside the heads of everyone in the room.  In expanding this character, I realized I could use him in plenty of other areas, including interaction with the main characters, and ultimately as the threat that brings book two to its climax.

Another idea was introducing secondary characters that had been in the very first draft but sadly never made it into book one.  They held vital roles in the overall series plotline, especially in book three.  I also dug deeper into the major characters' personal lives, as well as building up their apprehension towards the events that take place within the third book.

This nonlinear planning might be par for the course for some writers.  A subplot that comes to you late in the game will make you backtrack and give it a story somewhere earlier in the novel.  I went through this with the first major rewrite of book one.  But with this happening so early in the writing of the second book, it felt more disjointed than usual.  How was I going to tie all these major plots and subplots together without making it look like a cut-and-paste job?  This meant an extra bit of jigsaw puzzling in my head as I wrote.

It's a tough thing to do when you have the entire world of your story in your head.  Little things like dates may get screwed up, or characters who are supposed to be one place are suddenly across town two minutes later in the next scene.  For things like that I have hard copies of the story, a timeline file, as well as a 'dramatis personae' list.  These things have come in handy while figuring out this puzzle.  All I had to do now was plan out where these new plotlines were going to go and how they were going to affect the other plotlines. 

Thankfully, none of the previous work needed massive rewriting, but nonetheless it's made me come to the conclusion that Chaotic Writing, while good for the rough draft, may present a few problems in the future.  That's something I'm loath to admit, but if I have to, I will.  When it comes to planning out new scenes, sometimes it's necessary to follow the tried and true rules of storytelling.  Once I'm back on track and finishing off the novel, then I can switch back into Chaotic Mode and continue with my odd plot twists and seemingly random ideas.

Meanwhile, I have this big jigsaw puzzle in my head I need to sort out...

  Email: edentree@gis.net