Friday, November 24, 2006

Why write things out of order?

I know it sounds peverse but I write out of order to keep things in order. I'm not trying to sound clever. A book of this size can only work when it is cohesive and the way I have tried to achieve that is by writing related parts around the same time.

For example, I might write a chapter that centres upon the witch Lara Brand. Now she might not reenter the story for five chapters but rather than wait for that, it makes more sense to continue my line of thought with her. It's very important to me that my characters develop, but I want this to be realistic so it sometimes has to be subtle. The way to do this is to focus on smaller details that are reintroduced in subsequent chapters. Even if a reader can't consciously remember such details, he or she may intuitively feel that the characters are growing, changing, readjusting and redefining their sensibilities. The development doesn't have to be obvious for it to have emotional resonance.

Ahyhoo, the non-linear approach to writing means that the smaller details don't get lost. It also means that the ending is grounded in things that h
appen in the course of the novel. Hopefully, this means the conclusion will be satisfying because it makes sense.

Also, I find it a lot more fun to write a story in a non-linear way. Occasionally when I've been on a chapter for a few weeks, it's a good idea to take a breather. But I don't want to stop writing just so I can take a break from one strand of the narrative, so the opportunity to get into a latter chapter is perfect. I find it invigorating to reread another chapter that I haven't read for months. By the time I go back to the one I'm having a break from, I'm ready to approach it with enthusiasm. Hopefully that shows in the writing.

The other advantage with my non-linear approach to writing is that stylistically it spreads me across the book. I think I'm improving as I go, but fortunately the first part of the book doesn't reflect this as it wasn't all written in the early stages of the project. Does this mean the last part of the book is weak because I wrote it first? No, as I have constantly returned to the final battles as I have been writing. The
last few chapters are the keystone of the novel and I think they are sound irrespective of when they were written. Others may judge it differently.

However, writing in this way does have its share of problems. Because the last few chapters are locked to some degree, I lose flexibility when unexpected developments occur.

For example, (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) in the final battle, the Ghul use massive catapults to hurl huge creatures clear across the battlefield so the can
also attack the Terrans from the rear. I love the idea of this and it is something that could only be achieved in a sci-fi or fantasy world (as most people and large animals wouldn't take too kindly to being thrown across a battlefield). Unfortunately, I caught wind of some of the latest news regarding Halo 3 today. It includes a weapon called the mancannon which can be used to shoot people and vehicles across a battlefield. So my dilemma is do I remove something from a chapter that is already written to avoid claims of plagiarism or do I keep it in and suffer the consequences? Writing it out of the chapter is not as easy as it sounds - there are hints of the building of the catapults (and to a lesser degree, the existence of the creatures that are launched from them) in a number of preceding chapters and I don't want to go through the whole text removing incidental references. I think I'll end with an update on what I've done this week. Not a great deal as I have been busy writing job applications. However, I have done a few really pleasing paragraphs with poor Defecious. She's a little bit of a comical character, but also one that cops a shelacking (is that how you spell it). I had a lot of fun writing this bit...

A space was made on the wall to the left of the gate. A huge black skitterik stepped forward. This one was not only bigger than the others but was also adorned with bone armour, not unlike that worn by the Ghul, only considerably larger. A fat, sneering figure sat on a leather saddle strapped to the skitterik’s back. She had long black hair that was thick and matted. Her eyes were small and cold. Her face was a portrait of bitterness and discontent. Even though Pylos thought all these warriors were ugly, he felt this one stood out as exceptionally unpleasant on the eye.

“My name is Sergeant Defecious. We are the Ghul!”

She said it as if the very name was meant to instill fear in the hearts and faces of all who heard her introduction. But it had been many centuries since the name of the Ghul had been uttered in Helyas, a country more preoccupied with sport and warfare than myth and legend. None of the soldiers were familiar with the name nor were they impressed.

Pedaeus leaned across to Pylos and asked “They are the what?”

“They are the girl,” Pylos replied tentatively.

“That doesn’t make sense. The girl?”

Pylos didn’t respond. The squat spokeperson atop the wall clearly had more to say.

“We seek one called Wade Grayson. If you harbour this individual, produce him and we will leave your city.” Her shrill voice echoed across the courtyard before the gates.

Pylos turned to Pedaeus had remarked, “I’ve had enough of this already. Semiramus, when I give the word I want all your archers to fire. I want every single arrow on her.”

An incredulous look spread over both Semiramus and Pedaeus’ faces.

“You want all these men to shoot the same person?” exclaimed Pedaeus.

“That’s a f… f… female?” exclaimed Semiramus.

Pylos stepped forward, his eyes fixed on the one called Defecious. He carried himself with authority. His confidence in the face of such overwhelming odds seemed to irritate Defecious who sneered at the man standing proudly in the court below her. “I did not give you leave to approach me upworlder,” she rasped, her eyes glowering from their deep sockets.”

“I will not waste my words upon you, foul thing, other than to say this - there is no such man in the town. And if he were known to us we would not hand him over to one such as you.”

“So be it!” spat Defecious. “It matters not. We wouldn’t have left anyway.”

Pylos turned his back on Defecious and walked back to the Helyan ranks. ‘Kill her,” he said nonchalantly.

Semiramus lifted his right arm and slid his left hand along his forearm. All the archers’ bows bent back in unison. Two fingers of his left hand then pointed directly at Defecious whose small eyes widened to twice their size when she saw his gesture. He closed his fist and the air became a blur as one hundred steel tipped shafts shot across the courtyard and dug their way into her flesh. Remarkably, not one arrow missed. Some had buried themselves in her neck, legs and arms, but the majority tore into her torso, ripping it to shreds in less than a second. A few arrows pierced her cheeks and one had made a complete mess of her left eye. For a second she hung there in a macabre pose as if the arrows had pinned her to the very air.

And then she toppled forward, over the wall and into the dusty courtyard.

(from Chapter 8, Caliban's End © 2006 Paul F Stewart)

No comments:

Post a Comment