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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

WRITING OUT OF ORDER



People often ask me whether I write my novels using a detailed outline or whether I’m a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of gal. They are curious if I storyboard and follow sketched-out scenes for each book or do I write footloose and fancy-free, without knowing in advance what is going to happen next to my characters? Not surprisingly, many authors get asked this question. However, one question we don’t get asked that often is: “In what order do we write our stories?”

Huh? Order? What kind of question is that? It may surprise some of you to know that many screenwriters write their stories out of order and not in consecutive chapters or scenes, much in the same way that directors film a movie. Do authors do the same? I once read that Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series (as well as numerous other books), likes to write out of order. Meaning, she likes to write whatever scene is in her head at the moment, regardless of whether or not it comes next in the natural story progression. She says she then goes back later to stitch together all the disjointed scenes and fill in the missing transitions until the story is finished. I find this fascinating.

To answer the earlier question, I like to follow a detailed outline. I need to know where I’m going and what I’m trying to accomplish in each scene, as well as in the overall story. I applaud and even envy those writers who sit down everyday and write without having a clue what's going to happen. It just wouldn't work for me. But writing out of order...well, now that concept intrigues me.

Since I’ve always wanted to give it a try, I finally broke down and started to do it with my current novel-in-progress. Yep, I’m writing out of order.  I still know where I’m going and what I want to accomplish, but I am finding the deviation quite liberating and invigorating. Who knew? It’s working for me.

I wonder how many of you writers out there write out of order? Am I in a tiny minority or am I finally getting with the program? If you do write out of order, do you do it regularly? Occasionally? Once in a blue moon? Inquiring minds want to know!

17 comments:

Helena said...

I'm not a writer, but I have heard of other writers doing this (for example, Teresa Grant aka Tracy Grant, who writes Napoleon-era mysteries). This is what she said in a recent interview:

"I need to work on the plot before I begin writing. I lay out scenes on index cards, which lets me shuffle things around and see the gaps in the plot. ... I love writing in Scrivener for this. It has a corkboard view (so no need to worry about my cats or my toddler messing up index cards spread on my dining room table), and you can easily switch from the corkboard to outline view to a draft, which allows me to write scenes out of order, skipping over plot elements I’m still working out or later moving things around if I’m not quite sure where they’ll fall in the story. I also find I waste less time on transitions writing this way."

http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2013/04/your-books-are-not-only-compelling-mysteries-but-also-explore-the-complex-psychological-struggles-of-men-and-women-trying-to.html

Julie Moffett said...

Thanks, Helena, for letting me know about Teresa and for posting the interesting link! I think I may discover that a lot more writers do this than I ever suspected! ~Julie

Clare London said...

I try time and again to outline - and I have to say that the only times I've paid proper attention to it, it's paid off by keeping me on track! Otherwise, I know the opening and the closing of a book, but so often have to muddle through the middle. It makes for a very harsh self-edit, when I try to ease out any continuity errors :(

Yet I've found recently the instalment-approach works for me. I like to write chapters of similar lengths, with a cliffhanger - or at the least, a proper conclusion - to each chapter in turn. But then I spoil that sensible approach, by writing them out of order LOL.

Great post! Lots of food for thought.

Toni Anderson said...

I don't do this exactly, but if a scene comes into my head I will jot it down on paper and then use it later. Man--I am so tempted to try scrivener!!

Elise Warner said...

I begin with the first few chapters in order but then something often happens and I find myself writing a scene that might come later or--as I discovered today--earlier.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Julie, I can never write out of order, because I never know what's going to happen next until I know what's already happened. It's extremely frustrating and I envy those who can outline. The few times I've tried outlining, I didn't write the story because I already knew what was going to happen. ::sigh::

J Wachowski said...

Guilty--I write out of order. In fact, I remember reading that quote from D. Gabaldon and thinking--thank goodness, I'm not alone! (Later, I read that Jenny Cruisie does it too. She calls it "writing the good parts first.")

Strangely enough, I'm now experimenting with using an outline! I think trying new techniques is a great way to keep refreshing yourself as an author.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Toni, I think you'd love Scrivener. I'm much the same way - I tend to write in order, but if an idea for a scene is screaming at me, I'll jump to a fresh scene in Scrivener (or Word, if I'm using that) and jot the gist of the idea down in all caps so I know they're notes and not an actual scene.

And even if I write in order, I find that I have to go back and add in scenes later to flesh out a character or plot point.

Dee J. said...

I usually write in order and follow an outline. Sometimes, depending on the story/characters, I might deviate a little but not too much. Very rarely will I write a scene before I get there, but if it's right there on my brain and won't go away then I'll get it out so it won't bother me anymore. LOL. Usually it will wait for me to get there though. Sometimes I use that scene as the driving force to get me through the tough part of the manuscript. "If I can just get to such & such then I'm home free." It's a carrot to keep moving. (If that makes sense.) The one book I wrote where I pantsed it has turned out to be - possibly - my strongest book. Very interesting I discovered. But if the conflict is strong enough, the characters wants will drive the book.

Julie Moffett said...

Thanks all for your thoughts. I thought it was a lot more rarer than it is!! :)

slmpblog said...

Good to know others are trying it. I'm about to give it a shot as my mind loves to skip way ahead in current story and it is sooo distracting. This may be the solution to the problem. : )

slmpblog said...

Good to know others are trying it. I'm about to give it a shot as my mind loves to skip way ahead in current story and it is sooo distracting. This may be the solution to the problem. : )

Rita said...

Really late to the party but had to say this ia a great post. I sometimes get bogged in a scene that isn’t flowing. I’ll go to one I’m itching to get on paper. Gets the juices going again. I sooo want to try Scribner but, the learning curve. Anyone want to come hold my hand and teach me? Free R&B and heated pool.

Mary Golly said...

Thanks for this - it validated that I wasn't crazy after all--darn! LOL

Dr. Lorraine said...

For many nonfiction books, this is less relevant. I purposely alternate my time writing chapters near the beginning, middle, and end of the book. Each chapter influences the other. I often change the order of the chapters because as I do research and write, I'm often learning new things as I go. In the end, I stitch the chapters together with transitions. My outline is my table of contents.
DoctorLorraine

Ana Barrons said...

I haven't tried this approach but I'm going to! I can see how it could be liberating. Thanks for this great post!

Julie Moffett said...

Thanks for all the comments! Writing really is an interesting process for each individual. I do feel like mixing it up sometimes reinvigorates the senses and the process. :)

~Julie

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