Thursday, October 4, 2012

The last will be first (or How building a futon is like revising a novel)

In the process of moving, I've been assembling a lot of furniture. And the other day, while putting together a particularly heavy futon, I had a fascinating insight into revising Project Fun.

See (in case you haven't been blessed with putting together a futon recently), futons basically come in two sections: the bendy part the mattress sits on, and a rectangular base. Now, you can't assemble the futon without putting together the base first. However, the bendy bit has these rollers that need to fit into grooves on the base. So it's a catch-22. The base can't support the bendy bit if it isn't tight and secure. But if it's too tight and secure, the bendy bit's rollers can't fit into the base's grooves. The solution (after much bickering and cursing)? Phil and I made the base tight and secure, then placed the bendy bit over it. Then we loosened the base to get the rollers into the grooves, and tightened everything again.  Just how the pros do it! Or something.

Anyway, Phil was sweaty and frustrated, but I was excited. Because it suddenly occurred to me that revising a novel is just like putting a futon together. Without a solid structure (ie an organized plot and a fleshed out magic system) you have nothing to build your revisions on. But revisions also need to be organic, open to new scenes, new characters, new magic. 

See, I'm usually such a linear writer. I'll revise my beginnings ad nauseam, until the words, the dialogue, the setting, everything is perfect. Then I move forward and discover the plot doesn't work with my changes. So I move back to the beginning and revise it again. Then I move forward two more chapters, only to discover again that the plot doesn't quite work. But it occurs to me, if I could get my base tight and secure first, I might be able to cut down on the number of revisions. 

So I decided to start with my climax first. 

I know! Crazy, huh? But all the plot threads and magical elements come to a head in the climax. If I could figure it out first, then that would be one screw, tight and secure. Then I could use that structure and knowledge to move to my next screw, and my next. And once I have all the major plotty chapters down (ie, my base), I can build my character development and setting, and all those elements around it. Of course, I may need to go back later and unscrew my climax to make it all fit. But hopefully that will be a minor tweak, just far enough to get those rollers in. 

Is this making any sense? Thankfully it is to me! Last week I wrote my climax and discovered several plot holes I hadn't anticipated. But I'm working through them, and can already feel the novel tightening itself. 

Have you ever worked backwards, or non-linearly before?


  1. It's like writing a mystery, having to know how it ends in order to plot it, isn't it?

    1. Yes, exactly. And not just how the mystery ends, but like how twenty something mysteries end... makes me exhausted just thinking about it! But that's the joy of novel writing, huh? Or something like that... ;)

  2. I'm going to be trying this on Friday when I have a writing day. I've worked out my climax and am going to work backwards to connect it to the first third of the book that's already written.


    1. Oh, I hope it works as well for you as it has for me! It was totally scary, but I really think it's helped me confront a lot of unexpected plot holes!


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