Author Linda Howard once compared her writing to using a sewing machine, backing up and moving forward until she reached the end of her manuscript, which she said, was then ready to submit to her editor.
I’m nowhere near that skill level, but I did like hearing her technique, because that’s similar to how I write. (Usual disclaimer: this works for me. Your mileage may vary.)
For example, over the last week, I’ve hit the point in the manuscript where I’m dealing with my cops putting together clues to try to move forward with the case. As I write, I might discover that I’m dumping information in that should have been mentioned earlier. I know some writers might make notes about fixing it later, but for me, I have to go back and find the perfect spot to layer in that extra sentence or two.
One of the scenes I’m writing in my sequel to DEADLY SECRETS deals with Gordon’s search for a newspaper article to match a picture Megan discovered on the Internet. I’d established it was an old picture. Gordon learns that the small town paper hasn’t computerized or even microfiched these old issues. They’re stored in boxes in the basement of City Hall.
How will Gordon know which boxes to look in? I didn’t want him to have to go through 30 or 40 years of back issues—even if it was only a weekly paper. As I was writing, it seemed most efficient if Gordon looked in the boxes for 1975. But I had to explain why he was carrying the box for 1975 into his office. To stop and explain his logic would have been stopping the story to dump information to the reader. Not good.
Instead, I went back several chapters to a scene where the characters are looking at the computer printout of this old picture that someone must have scanned into a computer. I worked in the following (starting in the text in bold) :
“We got it off the computer when we did searches for Fred and Olivia,” Megan said.
“But what was the source?” Sam asked. “It looks like there is some writing at the bottom, but it is too blurred to read.”
Megan’s eyebrows shot up as she looked at Justin. “I didn’t think about that. I was too caught up in the people. Did you notice?”
“No.” Justin shrugged in Gordon’s direction. “Guess I don’t have the makings of a detective.”
Gordon pulled out his phone. “I’ve got the URL here. Maybe it’ll be clearer.” He found Megan’s message and clicked the link. It was no easier to read in the brightly lit room than it had been in the dim interior of his car. He extended the phone. “Here. One of you might be able to read it.”
Justin took the phone, swept his fingers across the screen. “Looks like an M, a W, a seven and a five.
That’s all I added. But then, a couple chapters later, this makes sense, and doesn’t stop the story to explain why:
Chimes tinkled when Gordon opened the door to the Mapleton Weekly. A pudgy, white-haired woman he didn’t recognize looked up from the desk. “May I help you?”
“I’d like to look at the archives.” His working hypothesis was that the MW75 on the picture meant it was from a 1975 edition of the paper. Of course, it could simply mean someone with the initials MW had uploaded the picture, but he was going with his gut on this one. “From 1975.”
I follow this procedure all the way through. I’ve written before how I print out each scene when I finish, and as I’m reading, I might discover something missing (or something not needed, or something I’ve already said). I realized that Megan had posed the question that a traffic accident hadn’t been an accident after all. Since Gordon was trying to set up security measures for one character, it didn’t make sense (and made him look like an ineffective cop) if he didn’t do the same for the accident victim. Adding two lines of dialogue covered that point.
Moving backward doesn’t mean you’re not moving forward. For me, it helps make sure I don’t drop threads.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society