Monday, November 14, 2011

Writing Out of Order

Before Divergent, I wrote everything in order, beginning to end. As a result, I would hit a sticking place in my stories and stay there...not just for days, but for weeks. It was usually because I didn't know what would come next, but often because I knew what was next but didn't feel like writing it.

I should note that I've found that when you know what comes next but don't feel like writing it, it might be because what comes next is really boring and you should think of something else. Just think about it.

If what comes next isn't boring, and it's just that you don't feel like writing it at the moment, or you have no idea what comes next, try writing out of order.

The most common objection to writing out of order is that it will get too confusing. Understandable-- but not necessarily true.
Let's say I'm writing a story about zombie witch-kittens on a crusade across Nebraska to save their zombie dog friend, and I get the zombie witch-kittens to Omaha...okay, no. This hypothetical is way too confusing.

Let's go with a real example: I wrote the beginning of Divergent first, up until she chooses her faction. Then I got stuck. I knew I wanted part of her initiation training to involve weird, nightmareish simulations, but I couldn't figure out what they would feature, or what would come before them. I did know how I wanted her relationship with her instructor, Four, to develop-- I wanted the relationship to come from curiosity and developing respect that turns into attraction, rather than the other way around. And I had a plan for how to do that.

So I made a note of where I stopped, skipped a page, and wrote all the Tris and Four scenes that I could think of. And while I was doing that, I came up with ideas for the simulations and what came before them. For example, I wanted to start giving some insights into Four's family and how it was different from Tris's. So Tris and Four have a conversation about how he doesn't miss his family. And I decided that one of her simulations would feature her family, in order to spark this conversation (and since they're so important to her, there had to be a fear related to them, so it worked for Tris, too).

Whenever I came up with ideas, I put notes at the little hash tags separating the scenes. Notes like "scene with Al, Christina, and Will at the chasm here" or "scene with Tori here." That way, I kept track of my ideas and where they would likely fit. (This is even easier with Scrivener. I advertise because I love.)

Soon I had a beginning, and a late middle, and all I had to do was fill in the gap between them. Suddenly, skipping forward had not only maintained my interest in writing the story, but it had actually worked backward at getting me unstuck. I knew how to close the gap between where I stopped and where I skipped to.

My original objection to writing out of order was that everything would become inconsistent and I would have to edit more. What I've discovered is this:

A. I will always have to edit a lot. So who cares if I have to edit for inconsistencies at the same time I edit for crappy character development, plot holes, bad writing, and grammar problems?

B. Actually, the story can become more consistent, because if you've already written the middle but not the beginning, you can lay the groundwork for the middle more accurately in the beginning (because you already know exactly what groundwork needs to be laid).

If you write forward and in order all the time, you sometimes discover where the story is going to go but don't hint at it enough in the beginning, so you have to go back and edit for inconsistencies anyway.

Obviously if writing in order works for you, and you keep up your momentum, go for it. But if you get stuck and you need something to try, give this a shot. It sounds scary but it's really not.

The zombie witch kittens, however...


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