Monday, October 3, 2011

Polar Opposites: The Linear and Puzzle Writer

Ever wonder if you'd benefit from writing a different way with a different process?  I wonder about that all the time.  And I've tried.  And failed.  I am what I am.  A puzzle writer.  The polar opposite of the puzzle writer is the linear writer and I've always wished I could write like that.  So I'd like to talk today about the benefits and challenges of being either a Linear or Puzzle writer.

To recap:

A linear writer is someone who writes their FIRST draft of a novel or screenplay using a strict road map. Unlike the plotter, who knows what your hero had for breakfast 10 years ago, the linear writer knows just enough about the characters, the story arc and resolution of the story in order to write. They start on page one, finish a chapter, revise it and then move on, following their little map until they reach the end. Many times linear writers will review what they wrong the previous day and fix whatever problems they see for adding to the story. They can't move on to Chapter Two until Chapter One is as good as they can make it.

A puzzler is a writer who uses a road map, but that map has holes it in.  They maybe know the opening scene, a scene or two in the middle and know exactly how they want their story to end.  As a result, they write out of order so they can get the bones of what they know down and fill in the blanks later. A scene here and there and then they piece the entire manuscript or screenplay together, layering and adding as needed until they come out with a completed story.

Linear and puzzle writers are polar opposites of each other. Ask a linear writer to skip ahead when they get stuck on a scene and they'll start hyperventilating. Ask a puzzler NOT to move ahead and just keep writing straight through and they'll stare at the screen paralyzed. I should know. I'm a puzzler. That's the fastest way to get me to STOP writing.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both types of writers.  For instance, as a puzzle writer my drafts come in short of word/page count.  This is good for me because I have holes I need to fill and I have room to add scenes and layer the story with emotion, description and more action if necessary.  A linear writer usually has a rhythm set up by their road map.  When they get to the end of their story, they're pretty close to word/page count.  If they need to add anything after the fact during the revision stages, it hard for them to do it without having to cut.

A benefit that linear writers have is that when they are done writing their first draft it's pretty clean.  They've spent the time to revise along the way and make changes where necessary.  So when they get to the end, all they need to do is read through and tweak here and there before sending it out.  Puzzle writers need to build in time to their writing schedule to make sure they have plenty of revision type between the finishing of a draft and submitting the manuscript.

Another benefit that puzzle writers have is the way they look at story.  I know that I can see arc of the story and character journey because the high points are pretty clear to me during the writing of the draft.  So when my editor asks for changes, I'm not thrown by having to cut out something or redo a scene.  I can see how it fits and how it's going to change the story arc.  Linear writers see the story in a straight line.  They're so used to writing in order that changing something major on page 150 can throw them. 
One type of writer isn't necessarily better than the other. It's just a process.  Don't let anyone try to tell you the way you write is wrong.  Regardless of what type of writer you are, we all start on page one and finish when we type THE END. 

I'm a big advocate of using writing tools whether their software programs to plot or graphic organizers.  But I'm going to leave you with that for another post because I have a feeling I'd be here all day talking about them.

What kind of writer are you?  What is your process?

WORKING ON: The Piano Tuner
LISTENING TO: Shine Down

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