Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Unless you're channeling William Faulkner* or, God forbid, James Joyce**, writing a novel means composing a series of scenes.

I don't plot individual scenes when I outline a novel, although I do think about scenes and mentally choreograph some of the important ones before I start to write. Others I flash on, as in I see snapshots or cells from the scene that pop up like posters in my head. Listening to whatever music I've chosen for the novel helps me imagine important scenes and bring on the flashes.

I probably write between six to twelve scenes a day, but my method is always the same. I read from my notes and the novel outline to see what I'm doing, i.e.:

Reever and Aledver leave Skjonn and fly to the surface. Aledver talks about Toskald body worship, reveals contempt for the Kangal, becomes suspicious of Reever's piloting, tries to take over the launch. Aledver's hijacking causes the helm to shut down and the launch crash-lands on the surface. The injured Aledver reveals to Reever that he was sent to assassinate him, but won't tell him why or who gave the order. Reever kills Aledver in self-defense, switches clothing with him, and crawls out of the crashed launch. He sees a rebel scouting party approaching the crash site. -- from Rebel Ice by S.L. Viehl

I check my notebook to see if there are any special research notes in weaponry, piloting and character description that I need for this scene. Once I've reviewed those, I start visualizing the scene:

Scene setting is the interior of the launch as it leaves Skjonn. I see Reever and Aledver, the contrasts, the similarities. The trader's shown reaction to Reever, what he says to him (start scene with a line of dialogue, Aledver speaking to Reever.)

I imagine the conversation between the two men. As Reever speaks, he's piloting the launch, and setting it up to make a controlled crash landing.

I plan the moment when Aledver hijacks the launch, what happens when he takes over the helm, how and why Reever still manages the crash landing.

Go through impact, damage to the ship, smoke, sparking equipment, crumpled hull panels, leaking atmosphere, dropping temperature.

I imagine Aledver's terminal injuries, what sort of weapon he produces, how he bleeds while he ignores Reever's questions.

I choreograph the brief fight and determine how Reever kills the trader.

I move into Reever's head as he strips the body and prepares to leave the launch.

I shift outside, imagine how cold it will feel to Reever, who is leaving a banged-up but otherwise nice warm ship that contains the corpse of a man he's just killed and stripped of his clothing.

I imagine what Reever feels about being back on this world, about his desperate mission, and now facing capture by rebels before he even gets started.

Once I've thought through all of the above -- and this doesn't take as long as it might sound -- I sit down to write the scene.

The actual writing part is pretty simple. I replay a loop of all of the above in my head, and write what happens. At this point in my process there is very little of me the person involved; this is where I become the typist versus the writer. I write straight through the scene, start to finish. I don't think about voice, style, word usage, pacing, or any of that stuff as I go along; most of it is unconscious now and if there are errors, I'll fix them later, when I edit. I try not to stop writing until I've finished the scene.

As I write, I don't think about how I'm writing. I don't wonder if it's any good, or how many words I'll get out of it. I don't backtrack or re-read. There aren't a lot of emotions pinging around in my heart or my head. If I feel anything, it's the pleasure that always comes from writing; being in the zone, burning up the keys, practicing my craft.

*If you are, then tell Will I apologize for the I Love Lucy parody of The Sound and the Fury I wrote back in the tenth grade.

**Come over to the house so I can kick you. He'll get the message.

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