Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Square Brackets to the Rescue

When you’re writing your novel, do the words always flow? Do the ideas always come in the right order? Do you always have all the information you need at hand while you’re writing a scene? If you do, I’d like to meet you, because you are a phenomenon.

[Square brackets] to the rescue.

Piers Anthony

Author Piers Anthony writes an epilogue in the back of each of his books about how he wrote it and what went on in his life at the time. They are a fascinating insight into how he works. While he is writing one story, he will often get an idea for another one. He doesn’t want to lose that inspiration, but he doesn’t want to stop the flow of what he’s currently writing. So he writes the new idea in square brackets and carries on.

When he types it up later (he writes in longhand) he takes out all the square brackets and saves them for later. He claims he never gets writer’s block, because if he’s stuck on one story he simply switches to one of his square bracket ideas and works on that instead.

If you are writing a scene and find there’s information you don’t know, just put it in square brackets and find out later. You should have done major research beforehand – for example, the first part of Intruders is set in a quartz mine on an asteroid. But some things come up as you formulate a scene – like, what injuries do you get from an explosion underground? Have the doctor talk around square brackets and get the scene down, with all the dialogue and reactions and consequences.

I remember reading that the early drafts of Star Trek scripts used to have [technobabble] notes in them for the advisers to supply whatever bit of technical language they needed.

Note to Self
Sometimes you know a scene will need more work, or you mention something that’s got to be woven in somewhere else in the story. Put a note in square brackets and you won’t forget. Here’s one of mine: [Reuel doesn’t want to wear a hat again]. Curious? I’m not telling – yet. Maybe you’re not happy with a scene or some dialogue, but can’t see a way to improve it right now. [should be more angry] or [this needs more detail].

Work On Later
Maybe you’re writing and you get to a bit that you’re just not in the mood for. [love scene], [fight], [technical bit], [journey]. Put it in square brackets and carry on.

If you use a computer, not longhand like Piers Anthony, it’s easy to use the Find facility to find all your square brackets and make sure they’re sorted out. Using square brackets gives you the best of both worlds – keeps track of everything without interrupting the flow of what you’re writing now.

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