Story as a pinball machine

This week, once I decided I was going to stop striving for novel-length, I looked at my mystery, changed one line at the end of a chapter and realized I was in the climax.  It’s amazing how what seemed like a simple goal became so distracting!

(It’ll be in the 30K range).

What then ensued was a cycling pass over the story.  I actually like cycling.  It’s evolved over time for me.

Cycling is a pantser tool that’s rather difficult to explain.  Writers hear it as “revising as you write,” but it’s not revision.  If you write a story too thin, you add more; if you write too much, you take something out.  That’s the core of cycling.  It can be setting, and that’s most commonly done with cycling because it’s both easy to put too much in or leave too much out. Revision is more like going through, finding fault (sometimes erroneously), and then correcting it.

The change of the one line triggered a round of cycling for the entire story.  I knew who the villain was and the story needed some additions to sneak him in.

And I’ve needed my Thinking Cat for some of these.  Cats are good at that (when they aren’t knocking stuff off).  A lot of the additions were more story.  Most of them were a sentence or two, maybe a paragraph at the longest. 

Except for three scenes.  Those ran into my weak area with time.  They have to be in the story because the story is about Hollywood and the victim is an actress.

Golden Retriever Muse put the scenes in much later in the story.  But the scenes kept nagging at Golden Retriever Muse: “We’re in the wrong place.  We’re in the wrong place.”  Like that commercial where all the insurance people come out of the cornfield.

Writing Nerd does not think sequentially—my brain is more like a pinball machine.  It does not like sequence.  At all.  When I dial a phone number sometimes, I know what the number is, I look at the numbers, and my brain’s going “I don’t like the order.  I must change it!”  Maybe there’s a cat up there, whacking at the pinballs.

To figure out where the scenes were actually supposed to go, I had to do a full cycle through the story.  The place was obvious once I did.

Fixing it…


It was early in the story, so I had to change scene numbers.  Brain.  Pinball.  Bzzzz! And this was all about getting the numbers numbered right.  Without goofing them up.

So it was move one scene into place, renumber it and all the ones that followed.  Then repeat on all the scenes and shift them forward in their chapter folders (this is Scrivener for Windows).  Then move the next scene and repeat, and the third, same thing.

Golden Retriever Muse is wagging her floofy tail now. 

Bicycling in and out of the story

I’ve found it curious that anything that works really well for a pantser (person who doesn’t outline) is often deemed by the writing community as a “Do not” and a “Really Bad Idea.”

Like moving around in the story as you writing and making changes.  It’s called cycling.

It’s not editing or revising as you write, because I’m still creating the story.  Unless a sentence is making me go “huh” I don’t fix at the sentence level.  Well, except for typos.  They’re fair game.  I add more description, foreshadowing, maybe whole scenes that I realize I need.

But I have some set guidelines too.  I don’t need to them any longer, really.  But the major two:

  1. Don’t move around when I’m stuck, since it can turn into a procrastination tool.  On my first novel in the Dark Ages, I’d get stuck and cycle back and start actual revision—changing big things.
  2. Don’t change sentences because they have to be perfect. I used to work with a cowriter, and he was always trying to change the individual words because the thought if we used happy instead of glad, it might be less marketable.

Knowing these helped me resist temptation to fix something that didn’t need fixing and focus on the story instead.