necklace (2)Let’s say your work in progress has a lot going on. Lots of episodes, lots of scenes, a complex plot, many characters. Things happen. Your character goes places. More things happen.

How do you put it all together?

A novel isn’t just a a bunch of stuff happening over several pages. As a writer you have to create a narrative. Your scenes aren’t just things happening. You are the author and you must tie scenes together.

One way to look at this is to look at stringing beads. You have a bunch of beads and you have some string, and you start stringing beads. Maybe you pick out an order, so you start with certain beads and keep stringing and stringing and then you tie things off at the end when you are done.

And what do you have?

You have a string of beads.

Now, think like a novelist. Select your beads. Put them in order. The string becomes part of the necklace, with loops and special stitches. The beads create a narrative pattern. Instead of a string of beads, now you have a narrative whole.

Now you have a novel.

So beaders have their tools to create patterns — beads, string, needles, patterns. A novelist has a couple of tools to help create patterns. Those are foreshadowing and serendipity.

Foreshadowing is when you have something happen in one part of your novel that pays off down the road. Foreshadowing takes a couple of different forms. Sometimes it’s a clue. Sometimes it’s a bit of sleight of hand (a red herring). The payoff is usually an epiphany. But be warned that if your main character has the epiphany, the reader has to have it too. Make sure your MC earns their epiphany and that it doesn’t come out of the blue.

Serendipity is trickier. I just told you to plan out your patterns, inserting elements where they need to go.  However, leave room for serendipity, so that your characters are not just moved from point to point like mannequins. Serendipity (or inspiration) lets the patterns create itself, and you the author are just following where it leads.

You need both to write an engaging novel or short story.

Have fun creating!

Note: necklace is by my creative and talented mother-in-law, Carol Putnam, who I think you will agree makes gorgeous creations.


2 Comments

Marshall Ryan Maresca · October 28, 2009 at 10:04 pm

At the Writers’ Workshop at ArmadilloCon, I recall a discussion about outlining vs. just writing and seeing where it goes. My memory may be shoddy, but I have a recollection of you being in the latter group.

Patrice Sarath · October 29, 2009 at 8:05 am

Yeah, I can’t outline, or at least, I haven’t yet found an outlining method that doesn’t constrain me so much that my writing suffers. See — I’m open to the experience!

What I’m talking about above is when writing, don’t just string the events along but try to create a narrative whole. Sometimes you have to go back and edit that in.

What I often see in beginners’ novels is that things just happen and it’s one damn thing after another. Much better to have an editorial sensibility from the start to create or to see the patterns. The latter is where serendipity comes in. Sometimes you didn’t know you were creating patterns until you step back.

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