God Bless the Word Processor!

Granted, it is the curse that convinced most of the world, literate and semi-literate alike, they could write, flooding literary agencies with the flotsam that makes it so hard for neophyte authors to get noticed. Yet, what a wonderful tool it also is.

For much of my career, I have written in a linear mode, crafting one chapter after another. How glorious it was to find I could lift an entire chapter and insert it elsewhere. Of course, in olden times, all one needed to do to accomplish that was removed the desired pages and insert them elsewhere in the manuscript. But then, it became the paragraph and suddenly one could edit wholesale on the spot, cutting and pasting, altering words and phrases to one’s heart’s content. Recently, however, I discovered another use, though I won’t be surprised if most of you already employ it.

I was recently introduced to a wonderful writing team: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs. The thrillers they write are layered with subplots and levels of tension beyond what most authors achieve—at least in my experience.

I was recently reading <i>Thunderhead</i>, a powerful paranormal-turns-out-not-to-be-paranormal thriller set in the Southwest. One of the things that delighted me about the story was how elements introduced into the plot frequently elicited “ah ha!”s when I recognized that the seed for each new turn had often been sown much earlier.

Now, a plotter can sometimes arrange for this, glancing ahead in her notes, but Preston is an admitted pantser—don’t know about Childs. For this sort of complexity, I am sure when he introduces a twist, he must ask himself where earlier in the work he could plant a seed. Then, I suspect, he returns to that point and carefully, to avoid heavy-handedness, works it in. Barring another strategy to accomplish this feat, that is how I would do it, and because I enjoy the elegant, I am now looking at my work with a new eye to how I might layer my stories. And I now have a new appreciation for how my word processor can assist me!


3 responses to “God Bless the Word Processor!

  1. Word processor? Raymond, are you referring to a computer?

  2. Yes! Like a fine tool that allows for ever-more-delicate sculpture, in the right hands .

    It also works in the opposite direction, allowing the writer to simplify and clarify a complex scene, gently extracting phrases that seemed perfect when written but not on re-reading. Best of all: that once-perfect thought may work very well in another location.

    I think you ARE talking about the word processor. A computer has many uses (ENIAC, the first practical computer, was first used to predict the wave heights along North African beaches before the Allied landing in WWII).
    The word processing software is the tool on the computer that writers use.

    As for encouraging lousy writers: the big culprit is electronic communication. Since the beginning of language, everyone has thought s/he had a gift for writing. As long as a writer had to print out the story and find a stamp for the envelope, it was likely he’d re-read the stuff on the paper, realize its true worth and crumple it up for kindling. Nowadays it’s much easier to hit the SEND button than the control-all-delete keys.

  3. Eden, it’s as my good friend and fellow writer, Janet, says. In addition to being a word processor, a computer is a number cruncher, a graphic image compiler, a music synthesizer and so much more. Interestingly, it is the first tool ever created with no specific purpose or function. Those are added later. The writer me appreciates the word processor functions.

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