Instead of depending upon someone else’s thoughts about a word, I want to go independent on this one. There are lots and lots of ways in which the word linear can be used, thanks to the disciplines of mathematics, science, photography, and art.
But I have a use for the word linear which may (or may not) be unique in applying it to the realm of writing. I can’t find a resource which refers to it “my” way, although I can’t believe that I’m the only person to think about the word in this way. It’s a fairly simple concept.*
To write in a linear manner is to depend upon a sequence of events, thoughts, or concepts which appear in a visibly connected pattern. In my mind, it is the opposite of a chaos method of thinking about things.
When writing in a linear manner, the author lays out specific events in the piece which begin, follow along in a pattern, and then end with an event which connects all of the dots. It is not necessarily predictable, but the ending is consistent. That aspect is determined more from an after-the-fact consideration than from an anticipated mode.
When I was studying screenwriting a few years ago a point was made that the screenwriter should avoid introducing a character or an event which has no connection to the storyline of the film. The viewer will identify that character or event in (her) head, make note of it, and expect it to have something to do with the ending. Throughout the rest of the film the viewer’s mind will be stimulated to look for the connection, perhaps to the point of distraction from the actual plan of the film. When the film has ended and there is no connection, there is a sense of the film being incomplete. Most films have a specifically determined length (approximately 120 minutes) and there is a lot to be accomplished in that short time. To depart from what I would call the linear plan is to interrupt and absorb precious minutes.
While a manuscript for a novel is not limited in quite the same way, the effect is similar. One way of assuring integrity for the linear pattern is to avoid naming an incidental character. Once an author has given a character a name, the character has been assigned a level of importance.
The use of a linear method of writing is not formulaic, in the sense of being so bound to the linear storyline in such a way that spontaneity is eliminated. If one is writing from the heart and the head, as I have promoted regularly, (she) does not want to be mechanical about the story and deny a freshness or openness.
Again using screenwriting as an example, Syd Field, the screenwriter’s guru, identifies the points in a screenplay which make up a good film plan. The screenwriter writes with a rhythm which includes specific touch points necessary to keep the viewer’s attention and build toward a legitimate climax. If the writer is dominated by those touch points and inserts them mechanically into the script, it will be discernible and distracting. But keeping that rhythm in mind helps the screenwriter achieve a product which is successful on the screen.
Similarly, in writing, I would not prescribe a linear format that is rigid. However, maintaining a linear perspective keeps the story alive and allows the reader to participate in arriving at the culmination of the story.
*The closest I have come to a similar theme is an article by Alan Kotmel of RPI. He exposes a helpful distinction between paper writing and web writing and describes the difference as being linear and non-linear writing.
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