What's the Most Efficient Way to Write Epic Style Novels?

Ned Marcus

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#1
Hello everyone. This is my first post here—a question I have.

I'm writing my third novel, and for the first time it has different characters pursuing different goals in different places. I did this a little in my first novel. My question is do you think it would be more efficient/better to write each character's story one by one? Or do you think it would be better to write the novel as a whole, switching between characters as I write?

I have the feeling that getting this right could save me a lot of time, but as I've never really done this before, I'm not sure what's best. I understand that this might be a 'what suits you' kind of answer, but still, any thoughts on this would be appreciated.
 

scarpelius

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#2
Purely from a reader perspective:
- option one will feel like a story collection. If the characters are very loose connected or not at all, this might be the choice;
- option two I've seen it in Hearth of the Comet by David Brin and Gregory Benford, which is one of the best hard SF I've read. If the plot permit it, I prefer this option.
 

Ned Marcus

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#3
Hopefully, readers won't be able to tell the difference. Not if it's done properly. For example, I don't know whether Tolkien wrote Frodo's part all as one, and then wrote the other characters' parts one by one, only to combine them at the end. Or whether he wrote the whole story as it later appeared in his novel. It could have been either way.
 

HareBrain

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#5
Looks at similar stories in the genre you're writing - you'll see all the positives and negatives in there, according to your own perspective. :)
I think the OP is only asking about the writing order, not the order the scenes play out in the book, so it wouldn't be obvious from the published version which approach the author took.

Personally, I go with writing the scenes in story order, not one character at a time. It helps to give a feel for the story as a whole, and the only downside I can see is that you might lose the voice a little when you return to an earlier POV. But that's something you can fix in editing. Writing characters one at a time means you might need to make drastic changes to a completed character POV because of something you write later in another.

But ...

I understand that this might be a 'what suits you' kind of answer
Basically, yes. :)
 

The Big Peat

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#6
The one time I tried to write such a book (and finished the manuscript, albeit while hating it) was doing the scenes in story order, although occasionally I skipped ahead a chapter if I was struggling with one. I think that's the best way as

a) It keeps things fresh to change from voice to voice
b) It'll prevent you from finishing one character arc, then realise you have to change it because it won't fit with the next one for reasons you only discover halfway through writing it

But this is "what suits you" though.
 

aThenian

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#7
I've always written the scenes in story order too. I think otherwise you lose a feel for the overall structure of the book - I mean, you probably want a pacey bit, then a slower, more introspective bit etc and it's no good having those contrasts just within one story thread, if the reader is going to be reading them as part of a wider whole. Although if you feel you can make an overall plan first, and work out the contrasts, changes of pace, cliffhangers etc ahead of time, maybe you could write the threads separately.

I do then reorder the scenes afterwards - ie I might decide there's too much of one thread and switch to another earlier etc.

I agree that a lot is trial and error, and depends what you're comfortable with.
 

The Storyteller

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#8
Personally, I use a bit of both.

The good thing about switching back and forth between characters as you go is it will give your story a greater sense of unity (as mentioned by aThenian). Although they are all different characters going through different things, there should be a sense everything is connected, and the story should flow naturally from one storyline to another.

That said, a first draft for me is usually all over the place. I skip bits I'm not sure how to write, and sometimes jump ahead to write a scene I have a clear picture for. Because I rewrite the next copy, I'm able to regain the sense of unity and create a flow, even if the things I wrote the first time through were out of order.

I also find there are times with multiple POVS where you're really on a roll with one character, and know exactly where you need to go with them; I would rather pursue this even if it is time for a change of POV, and capitalize on the inspiration I have for that story line.

As you said yourself, it really is a 'whatever suits you' type thing. That said, I wouldn't commit myself to either way of thinking; when it feels natural to switch POVs, switch them. When you're really invested in one, feel free to pursue it as far as you feel motivated to take it. It doesn't have to be 100% this approach or that approach!
 

Brian G Turner

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#9
I think the OP is only asking about the writing order, not the order the scenes play out in the book, so it wouldn't be obvious from the published version which approach the author took.
Whoops, yes - you're right. I thought the question was whether to publish individual story arcs as their own novels, or whether to mix them into a multiple POV series of novels. :oops:
 

sknox

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#10
Other folks can say how they did it, but that doesn't mean it will work for you. My suggestion: do it however you see fit.. Keep a few notes along the way about how well you feel it's working, where you went sideways--writing to your future self when you undertake another project like this one. In general, assume that no matter what you do, you'll decide later you could have done it better. It's not like we get this stuff right the first time round.
 

RJM Corbet

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#11
James Michener in 'The Drifters' gives an almost novella-sized introduction to the pre-history of each of of four characters, and then the second half of the book is their interaction, so that by the time they meet up, you already know each of them intimately. A great book, imo.

'The Alexandria Quartet' by Lawrence Durrell is comprised of four full-length (but concise) novels, each in the pov of a separate character, who each experience the same events so differently that eventually the reader is left a bit uncertain about what really did happen. It's a great work.

I suspect it's not easy to pull it off?
 
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Biskit

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#12
My suggestion: do it however you see fit..
That gets my vote as well.

I have this space opera, 4POVs, interlaced. Sometimes I write a big chunk of one POV, with markers for where others need to slot in, because I really need to keep with one character while it's straight in my head. Other times I'll hop back and forth and write the thing in sequence. It depends on how I feel and what works best at any given time.

I don't think you're going to get a meaningful definitive answer for something like this.

P.S.
Welcome to Chrons, Ned.
 
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#13
Thanks everyone for your replies. Even though it's a personal choice of what works best, it's interesting and instructive to see how other writers approach this. I wouldn't expect a definitive answer.

@The Storyteller I agree about not committing to an either or approach. At the moment I'm steaming ahead with one of the storylines. It's the first time I've written about dragons in detail, so I'm enjoying it and going with it.
 

mistri

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#14
Something like Scrivener can be really handy for writing in whatever order you like, then reorganising the chapters if you need to.

The one time I had a WIP with multiple POVs I tried to write them in overall order, switching between them as each chapter ended, but if I ever got stuck I would sometimes jump ahead to another character for a while.
 

tinkerdan

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#15
If the story depends on a specific timeline of events then it might work better with the stories told in chronological order.

If the order of events doesn't matter then individual stories might become more appealing; though you could still do it by switching back and forth from story to story, being mindful that that might create a sense of chronological order where none may exist.
 

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