Have a Bunch of Scenes. Now What?
The last post dealt with creating a novel through writing manageable chunks. I’m not advocating actually writing in such a mechanical way as I prefer a more haphazard, and freer, method. But whichever approach you use, you’ll eventually end up with a bunch of scenes, all of which may tend in the right direction but don’t necessarily read like a fully-realized novel. Which is probably true.
Sub-plots and other useful bits
The main plot is of course important to a novel whether it’s the growth/decline of the protagonist, the resolution of a mystery, or a couple finally getting together. However, it has other components which are equally important. They have to do with creating a fully realized world into which your reader can happily immerse herself.
In some novels, say ones in the Arctic, the locale itself can almost be a character. It’s not necessary to go that far, but your characters and their actions need to appear in a context. While writing all the little scenes, you have undoubtedly included some background setting. Now, you should review them to see whether you need to amplify or otherwise enhance the setting to create a fully realized world.
This doesn’t mean simply more description although that might be a component. Ask yourself whether the setting itself can and should prompt your characters’ actions. A storm in a forest might clarify or emphasize your heroine’s bravery or timidity. Work lay-offs could reveal how your protagonist reacts to crisis.
Another way to create a fictional world is to trace what happens to other characters in the story. If we return to the Martha story from the last post, does she have a sister, Tanya, who finally rebels against the shoddy treatment Martha dishes out? Rather than just write that one scene to illustrate Martha’s ruthlessness at home, you can create a whole story for Tanya. What was it like growing up with Martha? How has it shaped Tanya’s life? How did she get to the breaking point? Why now and not earlier or later in her life?
There you are—a sub-plot.
Scenes sewn together
A variety of sub-plots makes the reading more interesting and your fictional world deeper and more complex. But it isn’t going to work as a novel if all you have are a bunch of linear sub-plots. Clearly, they need to be woven together.
Actually, during the writing itself, these links and crossovers may have already occurred to you. Hey, Martha could need Tanya to do something for her and Tanya ‘forgets.’ Go with them, by all means.
But in the editing phase, look to where you might be able to kill one or more birds with one stone. For example, say you’ve decided that Tanya is as selfish as Martha. Rather than a scene where Tanya is being selfish and another with Martha demonstrating the same quality, why not show them fighting, both trying to get their way? If you add some setting, you have the beginnings of a fully and more integrated novel.
I have to say, the whole time I’m writing this I have an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. Breaking down a novel into parts is simply a way to show that it can be constructed from little scenes. PLEASE don’t write your novel that way. Let the imagination flow and creativity reign. It is only in the editing that you can and should be more analytic.