Getting Over The Hump Day – Welcome Tom Adair

I had the pleasure of sharing space with Tom Adair at Crime Fiction Collective, a great blog about the business of writing. I know a fair amount about guns, and still, several times, Tom’s posts taught me something about guns, ammunition, or shooting. I enjoyed his debut, The Scent of Fear, so much that I blurbed it for him. It’s a great book with a lot to teach writers about forensics. I highly recommend it.

Today Tom visits to talk about his method of beating writer’s block.

Please welcome Tom Adair!

Writer’s Block? Abandon the Linear Chronology

Most people are conditioned to think and act linearly. In the process of systems development you have to build upon what is already there if you hope to move forward. No one reads the even numbered book chapters first or begins a movie half-way through right? Doing things out of order just doesn’t seem normal. But when you find yourself staring at a blinking cursor and lacking direction, abandoning your linear thought process may be just what’s needed to move forward.

I approach writing in much the same way I reconstruct a major crime scene. I start by working with pieces. The only difference is that I can’t create the real life crime story; the evidence does that for me. Like writing, the process of crime scene reconstruction can frustrate the analyst, especially when they can’t seem to figure out how all the pieces fit together.  You see, criminalists never have a complete picture to work with. We know the criminal arrives and we know he departs but what about all the little things in between?

This is where the process comes in. We call it Event Segment Analysis. Essentially we distill the events of the crime into single facts that are proven by the physical evidence and write that on a little post-it note. One may read window broken from outside, another may read victim’s shirt cut off, or table knocked over. At this point we don’t care about the order of the events we just want to identify those things that can be proven by the physical evidence. Those little post-it notes are like the scenes in a novel. They tell a little story within a much larger one.

When I plan a novel I have a definite beginning, definite ending, and a number of scenes planned in between. I don’t fill in many of the details until I’m writing that particular scene. I call that filling in the gaps and I’ll bet many of you do something similar. Often, I have no idea if a particular scene I want to create will end up in chapter ten or fifty-five. I just know I want it to fit in when the time is right. As I write, however, I naturally fall into a linear thought process. At first things go well; this scene leads into that one and then the next. Eventually though I hit a roadblock. I can’t see how one event is going to lead into the next and the creative process stops.

It is at times like these that I remember my approach to crime scene reconstruction. Sometimes it helps to look at things (scenes) out of order to get them to make sense.  If you’re like me you have a number of scenes planned for you novel. Maybe two people fall in love, betray one another, and commit a murder or some other crime. So when I find myself blocked I just start writing a scene that I have planned for later in the novel. I don’t care if I can fit it together with another part, I just write.

As I develop that scene, the characters, their dialog, something interesting happens; I get more creative. I realize that some of what I am writing at that moment may change but I don’t care. In fact, one of the most enjoyable parts of my writing process is developing characters and scenes I had never envisioned when I first outlined the story. They develop out of necessity. Pretty soon the gaps get shorter and the process of connecting the scenes gets easier.

So the next time you find yourself unable to figure out what comes next in your scene; divorce yourself from a linear chronology and restart your creative juices by working on another scene you had planned. As those scenes develop the gaps in your story will shrink and you’ll be well on your way to finishing the story.

Tom Adair is a retired senior criminalist and internationally recognized forensic scientist. His first novel The Scent of Fear was published in 2012. Tom demystifies forensics for crime writers at his blog forensics4fiction.

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One Comment on “Getting Over The Hump Day – Welcome Tom Adair”

  1. “…when you find yourself staring at a blinking cursor and lacking direction, abandoning your linear thought process may be just what’s needed to move forward.”

    Good post and good advice. I’m a ‘whatever works’ kind of person. If I’m inspired to write a scene ahead, I skip forward without reservation. I can tweak it and dovetail it in later.


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