Writing Out of Order

by Autumn M. Birt
In a recent post over on my blog, I mentioned I had gotten back into the swing of writing after an unintended break by churning out a scene that was stuck in my head. It was unrelated to any WIP I had and was such a new idea it didn’t (and still doesn’t!) have a name. But my writing was stuck, not blocked – more congested with too many ideas.
Which drives your writing?

Which drives your writing?

It was a scene that was tense, emotional, and pivotal to a story I hadn’t really fleshed out. I just knew the bare framework of the plot. The scene I wrote comes near the end of the story… or potentially the beginning of book 2? Hmmm. What I’m saying is that it is a random moment that my mind kept returning to. So, I wrote it.

If felt GREAT to get it out of my head. It flowed so fast I could barely keep up typing (and I can type pretty darn fast at times!). The few interruptions did not disturb the flow one bit. I’d open up my handy e-writing device and was absorbed as soon as the text appeared.

It made me me think. Maybe I could write a novel this way?

I have the plot pretty much roughed out for the final book in my current epic fantasy series. I am invested in the characters and the story. But it wasn’t flowing.

Admit it, you want to know more about her!

Admit it, you want to know more about her!

Before my forced writing break, I had made it to chapter 8 out of approximately 35. And I wasn’t entirely pleased with some of those. Coming back to it, I was a little frustrated. The time away hadn’t given me much perspective on how to continue. So, I contemplated just jumping to those pivotal moments that captured my imagination (There are quite a few! I’ve spent a lot of time planning this one.) and then going back to fill in the gaps. Tada! A novel.

It sounded good, but I hesitated. I sat back and thought about why. I came up with a couple of reasons that this method wouldn’t work for my writing style:

I work with a rough framework for the plot. I know the direction the story is moving, but not exactly how everyone is going to get there. To me, writing a novel is like one giant improv fest. I tell my cast of characters the direction, the outside pressures, the setting around them, and then let them go. Their motivations, personalities, along with hopes and fears fill in the blanks.

I hadn’t thought about it before, but I guess you could say a majority of my writing is character driven. I just love seeing how they get themselves out of (and into!) situations as they move the story forward.

And they drive some crazy twists. The main plot stays fairly true to my framework (thank goodness!), but subplots and details of the main plot flesh out in surprising ways. If I jumped ahead to write a pivotal scene, I could very easily get aspects of it wrong. The character may have changed, their motivation could be different, or – being fantasy – a new element could have been introduced.

A plot... plotted! The girl or the graph - you choose.

A plot… plotted! The girl or the graph – you choose.

The novel would have to be a lot more plot driven.

I simply have to write a novel from front to back. Well… at least as far as the plot lines go. This is epic fantasy and not everyone is in one place at one time. So, I have been jumping chapter numbers to continue one plot line while in the mindset. It helps to keep my brain functioning and work flowing! And that is what it is all about, keeping the writing going.

So what about that random scene I wrote? I look at it as an intro for me to the characters and the world. I learned quite a bit and may actually pick away at other scenes… or the beginning. Great, another started WIP! Ack…!

How about you? Do you write front to back, by scenes, or just spontaneously?

– Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy series on elemental magic, the Rise of the Fifth Order. She also has lots of other WIP (read TOO MANY), which she carries religiously everywhere on the off chance that she will get stranded and have to entertain herself for several blissful hours. You can find her occasionally online on Twitter at @weifarer or on her Facebook page or on Goodreads. If you do find here there, I’m sure she is doing research…

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9 comments on “Writing Out of Order

  1. Up until my last book, I’ve always been a very linear writer…start at the beginning, finish at the end. But my Small Gods series follows a number of story lines (5 in When Shadows Fall, more in book 2, which should be out in Dec.). Writing those in the order they would appear in the book or chronologically would be difficult, so I write each characters part through from the beginning to the end, then go on to another one. I edit them the same way, then the chapters get rearranged into the order they appear in the book. That’s as crazy ‘out of order’ as I get.

    • That is sort of where I’ve settled, Bruce. If I can continue a POV or situation, I keep going no matter what ‘chapter’ it might end up in. Some of my characters have such unique viewpoints that it is better not to switch between them (it can take time to develop their mood and remember all the things that they know – and the ones they don’t!).

      Book 2 already…!!!! Ack! I’m trying not to get into the first one too much until I finish Spirit of Life. You are cruel… so cruel.

  2. Comment from Vickie Johnstone (who had trouble posting herself) – Hi Autumn, I write in this way too, for similar reasons. I write what comes to mind first – sometimes the end or middle – and I cannot write from A to B or plot Good luck with your writing

    • Hi Vickie (via Bruce)!
      That is the beauty of writing, isn’t it? That what works for one person, or even one story, will be different for someone else or the next novel. I write short stories differently than I write a book, and I might try to write a book by scenes or by chapters.

      Good luck with your writing too!

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  5. Personally, if a scene is there, implanted in my mind stalking back and forth like a caged tiger, I must write it. No ifs, ands, or buts. It must be written; I can’t focus on anything else until it is on paper or screen.

    That being said, I tend to write scenes in a linear fashion. I keep a rough outline for the various plots and sub plots, and where I want my characters to end up. The middle, however, is what I like to think of as a beautifully braided Celtic knot, but in all reality, it is probably more like a plate of spaghetti.

    I think it doesn’t matter which way it is written. It will tear itself out of your head regardless of whether you think you write linear or in (what I think of) globs. I no longer think I write the stories; the stories take over my hands in order to write themselves. (Pardon my insanity, but I’m sure you know exactly how I feel)

    • I love that imagery, Shawna!

      And you are right: I know exactly what you mean. (Having ignored an email from my mother in order to scribble outlines for a few more chapters that had just gone from spaghetti to beautiful knotwork!) 🙂

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