Some Techniques

I write everything longhand using Natalie Goldberg’s timed writing techniques. See the for some ideas on typing up your work.

So I’m writing this novel built on a series of subjects like subjects in a fugue. How do you control it so it doesn’t run wild? One technique I use is a Cut-to and Hook treatment , a technique borrowed from the screenwriters. A second technique is to color code the subjects so you can see them flowing down the page when you write. When I lay out fifty or so pages in Word with color coding it looks like a technicolor movie running. How does this control the movement? If you find page after page of a single color, you know you’ve left too much buried. Time to pull another subject out of the well. Here’s a piece of the early Cut-to, color coding, hook system:


The hook to tag tells me where a scene’s subjects will come back for transformation.

1. The story starts in a laundromat on Third Avenue in a City that might be San Francisco, but it’s not important, where Mitch gets arrested when he steals a tubful of white women’s underwear. Hooks to Apartment Scene with cops.

2. Cut to: Mitch’s apartment. The objects are the underwear as varied as a Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogue, but all white. The action is the tossing of Mitch’s apartment by the police. The hook is to the courtroom scene.

3. Cut to: The courtroom where the Judge sentences Mitch to five years because, he says, every woman has a right to the privacy of her undies. Mitch doesn’t fight the sentence. The object is the handcuffs (opens the manacle plot track) on Mitch’s wrists as the guard hauls him away. The hook is to the prison cell.

4. Cut to: Mitch’s prison cell where he sees René Grosjean for the first time. The objects are René’s hair, his arms, and the metal objects in the cell—bunk, sink, head. The hook is to the measuring scene.

5. Cut to: Mitch measuring the cell. It is 15 by 9. The objects are the bunk, the head, the semen scratches and smears on the walls. The hook is to shiv with handle of hardened semen.

Using the cut-to and hook treatment as a guide, I write the scenes longhand in writing practice. Then type up in color code so the text looks like this—End of 3 hooking to Beginning of 4

no idea that even in handcuffs, I could break his neck, break his leg, break his arm and walk away. He had no idea that I could shed the handcuffs, he had no idea I chose to accept them because I didn’t want to burden the judge, the man who saved my life.


I’ve measured my cell in every way I can. I have paced it lengthwise—five paces. Fifteen feet. Paced it across—four paces. Twelve feet. The width cut down because of the width of the bunks.

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