Write your big scenes, connect them later

Star Wars: A New Hope is an almost perfectly structured story, thanks in no small part to Lucas following Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

But it wasn’t always so. This short, excellent video shows how the original cut of the film didn’t have the same pacing and structure as the the finished product. (Which might explain why Episode I – III were so clunky, and fan edits so superior.)

 

How does that affect us as prose writers?

Remember what Ernest Hemingway said: “the first draft of anything is shit” and “the only kind of writing is rewriting”. Taking a lesson from this video, revising your first (or fourth) draft might not need major re-writes to fix or improve your story. Re-arranging scenes as they were written can improve tension and pacing.

Or, if you are writing your first draft, write the major scenes that you have firmly in mind, arrange them in the order they take place, and worry about “connective tissue” later—how characters move from Point A to Point B, expository conversations, etc. You might find that there is enough information in these scenes that the connecting scenes are extraneous and may have been cut anyway had you written them.

This also means you don’t have to write everything in your first draft. You might write “They go to the cabin” for a scene that you know, in the final story, will be 2000 words or two chapters. But, while writing, you don’t have that scene firmly in mind. Or, that scene as envisioned is boring—stakes don’t change, nothing new is learned, characters don’t develop. So, rather than slogging through it, write a short note of what happens and move on to those scenes that are vivid in your mind. It could be that what happens at the cabin will help inform the story of how they get there—clues, foreshadowing, red herrings—giving you the energy to write the scene that had been lacking.

You can also write out of order. Know what the climax is step-by-step? Write it and leave yourself notes of what information, actions and characters beats need to happen to get there. Write those exciting middle sequences that you’re not sure what they connect to, but they are great in themselves.

But we sure to tie it all together in the final product—logical plot progression, character development, a cohesive story. That part doesn’t change. It’s just that a non-linear way to writing might be the best way sometimes.

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