Midweek Update: Further Thoughts on Writing Out of Order

On Monday I posted about how great writing your novel out of order is, and how it can kick Writer’s Block to the curb. And I stand by that assertion!

However, after practicing this technique for about a week and a half now, I thought I would just write about some drawbacks I’ve noticed. No technique is perfect, and there is no tried-and-true formula to writing a book! (Y’know, aside from, like, basic rules of storytelling and grammar. But HOW you write the book — that is, the techniques you use to get the words on the page — differs from writer to writer, as I’ve pointed out a gazillion times, and every technique has its pros and cons. It would be silly of me not to admit this!) So here are a few observations I’ve made in the past 10 days or so about writing scenes out of order:

  1. It’s really fucking messy. There is no denying this. Granted, even rough drafts that are written in order can turn into a hot mess, especially as you begin to make edits. That being said, writing scenes out of order leaves you with an additional, huge step ahead of you in the editing process. You don’t just need to edit your scenes — you need to put them in the correct order! It’s difficult to number them as you go along, unless you have perfectly outlined your novel and never make any changes to that outline whatsoever. But a lot of us don’t do that. Even the biggest advocates for outlining books have been known to add or remove scenes that weren’t in their original plans as they go along. I personally use a very rough outline with major scenes, and then a sub-list of additional “quieter” scenes that I might write but might not keep later on — a list that may change and grow as I write. Additionally, as I’ve worked on this second draft I’ve made each scene a separate Word document. This means, when the time comes, I will have to compile all of these scenes into one organized mega-manuscript. Maybe you’re writing all your out-of-order scenes in one document, but you’re still going to have to do a lot of moving around once you think you’ve written all the scenes that you need. Be prepared to clean up after yourself!
  2. Immersion is a little more difficult. This is the biggest stumbling block I’ve run into using this method. One of the most exciting things about writing is totally immersing yourself in your characters’ lives, and tagging along for the ride that is your book. This is easier to do, I find, when you write the scenes in order. You get the opportunity to witness your protagonist as they grow and change. You are more hyper-aware of all they have been through. Writing happy scenes can make you feel ecstatic for them, and when you get to those gut-wrenching tragic scenes, you might even cry a little (or a lot… hey, we’ve all been there). That’s not so easy to see when you write things out of order. In fact, if you write later scenes first then there might be big blank spaces in your plot — the infamous plot hole! — that you need to fill in when you go back and write earlier scenes (or your NEXT draft). And honestly you might not know what those blank spaces are until you get around to writing those earlier scenes.
  3. Because of #2, you might need to be more prepared. If you’re going to write a novel out of order, then you might have to have at least a very rough outline of all the crucial points in the plot so that you know what you want to write ahead of time. It’s a good idea to have the mood and tone of your scenes planned well beforehand when using this method. Otherwise you might feel like you’re trying to find your way out of a pitch-black maze. When you write out of order, it’s a lot harder to go off track and let your story take itself in a random direction. You might not be able to play with it as much as you would had you started at the very beginning. (That’s not to say, of course, that you can’t get creative and playful while writing this way! You can still jot down additional scenes as you go along, as long as you know where they will fit into the grand scheme of things.)
  4. Some scenes might turn out to be pretty bare-bones. It is so much harder to imagine all the feelings your characters must be experiencing in the moment when you write scenes out of order. When you write from beginning to end, you already know what your character has been through, all their trials and triumphs. This may not be the case when you write out of order. You might forget, for example, that you’ve planned a scene in which your character has the same argument with a sibling that she is having with a friend now, which robs you of the chance to make that connection in the scene. It is hard to maintain awareness of everything your character has already experienced if you’re not entirely sure what order your scenes are going to be in when the manuscript is finished. There are parallels you might miss out on, references you could make that you might not notice. But keep in mind, this is what edits are for! It’s very likely that you’ll have to go back and pad many of these scenes once your manuscript is organized, in order to ensure that the narrative flows well.

Remember: The point is to get the story on the page, even if it is messy. For some writers, this means starting at the beginning and writing until your character can live happily-ever-after (or not); for others it means fast-forwarding or rewinding a few times and jumping from scene to scene.

Once you have all the crucial scenes written down (or typed out) you can go back and fill in whatever you missed later. Just get the basics on paper so you have something to work with first.

Happy writing!

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