A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Timelines and Continuity. It had a lot to do with rearranging chapters during revisions, due to my nonlinear writing process (note: Professor Ron Block of Rowan University says all writing is linear, even when it’s not, because you have to write it and read it in a linear fashion across the page). As an example, I said I usually write, say, 6 chapters from Gabby’s POV, then 7 from Tock’s, then back to Gabby, and so on. But during revisions, I need to weave these chapters together to flow more fluidly back and forth between each character. The result can throw off some details that need to be fixed in revisions (such as if a character refers to something that happened “yesterday” but due to rearranging the order of events, it now happened “this morning,” or it won’t happen until tomorrow).
So why am I revisiting this topic? Well, my #NaNoWriMo novel, Arcana Revived Volume Six, is requiring me to look at chapter order in a very different way than in my previous first drafts. As an example, here’s the chapter order (before any revisions) for Volume Four, Mutation.
As you can see, I wrote 16 chapters in a row of Gabby, just because that was where my Muse was taking me. I kept writing on Gabby until I reached a point where I wasn’t quite sure what to do with her next. Then, to avoid getting log-jammed by writer’s block, I switched to Tock and Mae. I wrote with them for a while, then switched back.
Once I get to revisions, these chapters are more likely to go Gabby/Tock/Gabby/Tock/Gabby/Mae/Gabby/Tock or something like that. But when I was writing them, I just went with where my flow was taking me, in order to get all the words down as smoothly and quickly as possible. And it didn’t really hurt the narrative or the continuity at all, since Gabby and Tock weren’t directly interacting with each other in those early chapters. They’re in different places, going through different (but parallel and directly linked) events. Which was all building up to a point, close to the end, where their individual halves of the story merge and they end up in the same place at the same time.
This is the method I’ve really used with every book I’ve written so far, from Manifestation to Contamination (which is currently on Draft Two) to the next three books (which are all first drafts). It’s worked well each time. But the sixth book, which I’m currently writing for NaNoWriMo, is turning out to be an entirely different process. I’m handling continuity and the order I write the chapters in a completely different way.
As you can see in the chapter orders for Volume Six, I’m alternating a lot more between the characters from chapter to chapter. Really, this is what the above chapter order will look like after revisions. I’m just doing it during the first draft this time, spending no more than a few chapters in one character’s POV before I move to the next. This is because the stories are more directly interwoven than before. As a result, I have mostly fallen into a pattern where I write Gabby/Indra/Jaden/Gabby/Indra/Jaden in order. I have to do this because it’s not just a question of “which event happens first.” It’s a situation where all the characters are having a very direct impact on each other’s actions, so I can’t continue to write the next character’s chapter before I finish the first.
Here’s an example of two scenarios, one from Mutation and one from the new book, that demonstrate what I mean in a more concrete way.
During Mutation, there’s a point where the characters are battling a variety of giant mythological creatures that have come back to life because of the revival of magic. At one point, some of the characters are split up, so that Gabby is battling one Beast of Legend, Tock another, Mae a third, and Callia a fourth. The individual battles don’t impact each other, but they all impact the overall plot and together the battles determine whether everyone will be safe or if the Beasts will crush entire cities and kill thousands of people. So, after each battle has been decided, the characters can reunite and we can see the aftermath, but during each battle, each character is on their own (or “the character plus the miscellaneous supporting characters helping them fight”).
What makes the new book different is that for the majority of it, the characters are coordinating their efforts in the same struggle, instead of battling separate (but related) foes. For example, right now, Gabby is lying in ambush, waiting for a signal from Jaden that a certain task has been completed before it’ll be time to strike. But Jaden can’t do what she needs to until she gets crucial information from Indra and her cousin Vijay. So while I’m alternating between characters from one chapter to the next, they’re working together on a common goal, and their actions directly impact things. Gabby literally can’t proceed from her current position before I’ve written Jaden’s next chapter (unless she wants the entire mission to fail), and Jaden literally can’t accomplish her goal without the key information she’s waiting to receive. It requires me to look at the book differently than the previous volumes.
That’s not to say that either method, “nonlinear” chapter order or direct alternation between POVs, is better or worse than the other. It just means that the revision process for this volume will require less rearranging (in theory), since the chapters are already in more-or-less the order they’re going to stay in.
Hopefully things continue to flow well throughout the rest of NaNoWriMo. And if you’re also writing a novel this month, good luck, and may the continuity be ever in your favor.
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