Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Writing a Novel Out of Order



I write my stories out of order.
 Like, completely out of order. 
Many times, the ending or penultimate scenes will be some of the earliest I write.
(For example, the very first scene I ever wrote for my on-submission manuscript is now Chapter 8.)
And I'm a pantser.

This confuses a lot of people. If I am a pantser, and consequently don't know where the story is going or how it gets there, how can I possibly write ending scenes before beginning ones?

See, the thing is, drafting is the absolute hardest part of the writing process for me. Something about getting new words out is grueling.

The only way it's not grueling - and, in fact, the way that I find myself able to fly through the words, optimally pulling 5,000-7,000 in a day - is by "seeing" a scene in my head, or "hearing" a conversation between two characters, and kind of channeling those things into words. (Sometimes I even type with my eyes closed so that I can "see" or "hear" better.)


Most often those scenes that I "see" or "hear" consist of one of two things:
1. Intense drama
2. Kissing or other sexy stuff

It is in these scenes that the characters are most emotionally invested in what's going on. When a character is at the highest or lowest point of her emotional arc, that's when I can "hear" her most clearly, and so those are the scenes I tend to write first.

Untitled
I mean, seriously. Once you have this picture in your  head, how could you NOT write that scene first?


 Lately, I've been drawing up a beat sheet to get a very rough idea of the plot, so I'll plug these early-written scenes into whatever plot point they go with, and then write the other scenes I need to fill in the rest of the book.

What this essentially creates is a skeleton of a novel built around the characters' emotional arcs.

So, I think that what all this means is that I like to write character-driven stories, which is why this writing-out-of-order method works for me.

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I'm just lazy as all get-out.

BUT STILL. I've written three books in two years and I'm going on a fourth, so it works for me.

(And, let's not forget: a famous out-of-orderer is Stephenie Meyer. She wrote the scene where Bella and Edward canoodle in that field of flowers before she wrote anything else. So...let's hope that the whole method works just as well for me as it did for her.)


What about you, sweet writerly-type readers? Do you draft out of order, or do you have to draft in the first-scenes-first method? 

34 comments:

  1. I attempt to outline. And the outline usually hits the trash by the time I get to 5,000 words. I know where the story begins, and I know where it will end. I let the characters find their own ways to the end. It works for me. :)

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    1. Yeah. "attempt" is a key word for me, too.

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  2. I tend to write from the beginning, but lately I've had an itch to jump around. I think it helps break up writer's block when you have a scene you're dying to write. Hmm...I may have to do that tonight!

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    1. I think that's exactly right. Anything to get the ball rolling.

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  3. Well, for this particular WIP, I tried really hard to write in order but it never worked. Whenever I got stuck I ended up skipping to another scene--usually with intense drama or kissing, too. And then once I started jumping around I couldn't stop and I just wrote whatever the heck I felt like writing each day. But now I'm all caught up and am writing in order for the last few thousand words. Then when it comes time to put it all together I'm sure I'll weep bitterly at the mess I've made, which consists of pretty scenes with no segues. But then, at least, I can see the story as a whole and fix it :)

    Um...sorry for the essay :D

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    1. AMANDA THAT'S JUST LIKE MEEEEEEEE.

      I love your essays. <3

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  4. I usually write in order, I find following the journey along with my characters easiest... and that way I urge myself on to get to those key scenes ;) However, I definitely see the interest in writing those scenes which jump out first, and structure around those. Always worth trying new ways I say, I might give it a go sometime!

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    1. I've heard that from some of my CPs - the key SCENES that you really want to write are the motivation. Which I could definitely see. :D

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  5. I think when I'm still drafting I write out of order more--though not all that much. (And it very much depends on the MS too.) Once I'm revising, I have to keep everything in order, otherwise my brain will explode.

    But beat sheet FTW!

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    1. Oh, for sure. Revising is a whole different animal. And yes. Thank God for beat sheets.

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  6. In the past I've always drafted completely out of order. But I'm handwriting a draft in order at the moment and I'm finding the change refreshing! It's so awesome to sit down every day and prove to myself I can come up with something just because I need to. Plus I can brew on those scenes I really want to get to and let them grow until I'm ready to commit them to paper

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    1. Okay, so, inspired by this comment, I tried handwriting a scene - just ONE SCENE - today and my hand cramped and I couldn't read my writing. So.

      But...kudos! <3

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  7. I think that's awesome. Going off an emotional arc for your characters- really cool. Love that idea.

    I always, always have to write in order. I edit in order, too, unless I'm editing for grammar. Though there are spots I write something like "fill in with action scene here" or occasionally realize I need to add something after I write it, but to jump around would drive me nuts.

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    1. Hahah yeah, I do a lot of "Fill in with action scene" too. Drives editing me NUTS.

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  8. I'm a linear pantser and have a lot of trouble skipping ahead even if I know the scene, but have a couple of CPs who're patchworkers; it's absolutely mindbending to me, but it's what works best for some people.

    Another famous and extraordinarily successful patchworker is Diana Gabaldon, who wrote the Outlander series. She's up to eight books in the series, I think, and I just heard news that it might be turned into a TV series like Game Of Thrones was.

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    1. "patchworker-" I never heard that! Love it!

      And, whoa - no idea Diana Gabaldon works like this too!

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  9. Wow I'm a new follower and I've only read 2 of your posts so far but they're great! :) Keep it up.

    Anyway, I'm definitely like you where I think up the scenes in which the characters are most emotionally invested first. But I usually just jot them down in a notebook and then write in order and add those scenes when the time comes for them. :)

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    1. Thanks for coming over! <3

      I guess that's kind of what I do, except I just do it all in Scrivener. I tried writing a scene in a notebook today and couldn't decipher my own handwriting. Ooops.

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  10. Leigh Ann I totally get this. Why? Because the first novel I wrote was pantsed but written in order. The second novel...the one I am revising for an agent (!!!!)....was written out of order. And not only that but it is told in a non-linear timeline, which means I have an outline but only to keep track of what the %^&* is going on. LOL! I think each novel comes with it's own way of working. Like children, they're all different but still all loveable in their own unique ways. ;-)

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    1. Exactly. They're ALL different.

      And good luck on that R&R!

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  11. I outline like a mofo without a single regret. if I get bored while I'm writing a scene, it just gives me permission to change something so it's not boring...as long as it stays within the general outline. I'm anal like that.

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    1. I can't even fathom. I'm in awe of you. <3

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  12. I find first drafts gruelling too, for that exact same reason (blogged about it today, in fact)! So glad it's not just me. :D I've tried writing scenes out of order but usually, I'm a start-at-the-beginning-and-work-through-to-the-end sort of writer. I see my plot like a series of stepping stones that I have to get across to reach the end. My novels are definitely character-led too, though, so they dictate how the plot goes, which can be frustrating at times when they won't do what I want them to do.

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    1. Ahhh, but don't you think it's easier that way? Then you don't hav ethe problem of your characters looking like puppets!

      *runs to comment*

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    2. Oh, definitely. Trying to fit characters to the plot would feel so unnatural for me. It's just frustrating when I think things are going to go one way and then they want to take them another! Means I have to re-plan. They sure like to keep me on my toes…

      Thank you for your comment! :)

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    3. I have a certain CP whose characters force her to write sex scenes for them. It's really SUCH a big shame, for me especially, since I have to read them. ;) #Ilovethem

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  13. I can't write out of order. I pants. I know the beginning and the end before I start writing, but everything else is pure pants. I blast through the first draft, and then figure out where everything is supposed to go. I often change the order of things in editing, move entire subplots around (or add them in or take them out). I have to get all the words, the whole plot, down on paper before I start shuffling it around.

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    1. Isn't it so much easier to work with somethign that's THERE? That's why I'm a pantser, maybe - get the raw stuff down, shape it up later.

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  14. I do the same thing! My scenes are all over the place and I have to go through and figure out which order they go in and what is needed to segue between them!!!

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    1. YES YES YES. I KNEW it couldn't just be me!

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  15. oh my lord! the thought of writing scenes out of order gives me serious anxiety. I write a loose outline and don't always follow it.. but I'm definitely a linear writer :)

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  16. I'm a plotter that writes out of order, mostly because I'm bad at transitions, so I like to skip that part. Also, I find that it's almost impossible to write the beginning before you know the end.

    But I'm not sure it's the best or fastest process for me, TBH, because I'm finding that a lot of the scenes that I write later on turn out not to be relevant once I write the scenes that came before. If that makes any sense.

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  17. I wrote my current WIP, my first novel, entirely by hand from first to last sentence. It was exhilarating during the initial process, but typing it up was the most excruciating experience I've ever taken upon myself haha! My hand couldn't move as fast as my brain, so it was all run-on sentences and silly word choices.

    I definitely think I'm more of beginning to end guy, though. As mentioned by others, I usually use my excitement for the intense scenes as motivation to move forward.

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