Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor

Patching It Up

By Peggy Kurilla
© 2003, Peggy Kurilla

t seems to be generally accepted that there are two types of writers:  those who write with the aid of an outline, and those who don't.  The two camps appear to be eternally at odds with each other, with no middle ground between them.  There is a third road, if you will: writers who, whether they outline or not, write in the order that the scenes occur to them.

Diana Gabaldon, for example, has stated that she just begins writing whatever strikes her fancy, and after a time, she starts piecing the bits together into a semblance of order.  Given her sales record, the method obviously works for her.

Certainly this approach isn't for everyone, whether they outline or not.  I prefer to follow an outline as much as possible from beginning to end on longer works.  For shorter works, which I usually don't outline, I still write from beginning to end in first draft.  However, this changes during revision when I work on new scenes in the order they occur to me.

I generally write very tight, fast-paced prose—which means the first drafts of my novels tend to come in at around 50,000-60,000 words.  During revision, I look for subplots that I can expand and characters I lost somewhere along the way (there's always at least one).  When I find these situations, I draft the scenes for each subplot in order in a separate document.  If I have three subplots I need to add, for example, I'll have all the scenes for subplot one, then the scenes for subplot two, then the scenes for subplot three.  I'll also make notes about any revisions I need to make in scenes need editing to better connect to the subplot.

Once I've completed all the additional scenes, I go back to my main document and read through it again, cutting and pasting the new scenes in where they feel right.  If I will be away from my workstation for part of this, I'll make a summary list of the scenes I've written and number each one.  I can then go through a hard copy of my work and make notes such as "Insert Scene 4 here" to let me know where to put each scene when I return to my desk.  Sometimes, a scene from subplot one has to take place after a scene from subplot two, so those are juggled into their proper order as they're inserted into the main document.

After all new scenes are inserted, I give the manuscript a final read-through to check that all my transitions are correct and that the order makes as much sense in the finished product as it did during revision.

I know this method of cut and paste revision won't work for everyone, but writing subplots in continuous scenes has helped me control the flow of information and tension within each subplot.