Should You Always Write Stories In the Right Order?
Hang around any writing forum, blog or Twitter chat for long enough, and talk will inevitably turn to a debate as old as writing itself…
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
The plotters want you to meticulously detail the contents of each and every scene. You should know exactly what will happen every time you open your notebook/Word/Scrivener/whatever you write on. Your outline alone should be the length of a 1940s pulp novella.
But the pantsers want you to throw caution to the wind, and make it up as you go along. Explore the world you've built. Make up new rules. Introduce new characters. Take the road less travelled.
What if I told you there was a third way?
Yes, it’s true. You don’t have to stick to one method or the other. But I suspect you knew that. After all, there are as many types of writing process as there are writers!
We’ve all been there. You’re trying to write, but the story is getting bogged down. Maybe you’ve got too much exposition. Perhaps the dialogue keeps wandering off course.
Whatever the problem, you just keep thinking of what’s coming next.
And you know it’s an absolute doozy of a scene.
But you can’t write it yet, because you have to write in a linear fashion. Point A leads to Point B, and so on. So you get bored, leave the computer, and fire up Netflix while you ponder your writer’s block.
You could have just pressed Fast Forward.
No one watches the adverts on TV any more. In the old days, you didn’t have any choice. You used that three minute slot to make a cup of tea, or dash to the loo.
That’s basically your plodding scene that you’re not sure how to end. It’s a toilet break.
I don’t watch TV adverts any more. I record programmes, and skip the ad breaks. That’s essentially
what this method does. It lets you skip the parts that aren’t exciting so you can reach the parts that are.
How does that even work?
If you’re a pantser, then I hate to break it to you, but you will need an outline. Not a weighty tome, just a rough idea of the beginning, middle and end.
If you’re a plotter, use what you have.
Sit down and decide what you’re going to write in this session. Are you picking up where you left off? Do you actually want to, or do you want to write the following scene instead?
Before you start writing, insert a few lines to describe how you think the story will get from where you are, to what you’ve going to write next. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, just basic bullet points to sum up what you think needs to happen. Something like,
“Jane decides she’s had enough of the conversation and throws a cushion across the room. Peter thinks that’s out of order and storms out.”
Then you Fast Forward. You’d start writing the scene about Peter, as if you’d already written the part you were struggling with.
If you’re writing in Word, you can put these notes in bold and highlight them in yellow so you know you need to come back to them. In Scrivener, you can stick in a note card between the scenes.
You can fill in the gaps later.
When you’ve written the exciting or super-important scene, you can go straight back to your ‘fast forward’ and look at it again.
Do you even need to expand it? Will a short paragraph actually be enough to carry the action between scenes?
Often, I find that writing the next scene contains enough information that I don’t need to flesh out the ‘fast forward’ too much. Sometimes, I don’t even need much beyond a sentence or two. Turns out that part was boring for a reason.
Why should you try this?
Using the Fast Forward approach has three main advantages.
1. Focusing on the exciting parts of the story keeps you interested, and helps to maintain momentum. If you’re always keen to get stuck into writing, you’re more likely to get your story finished without suffering writer’s block. Besides, readers can tell when a writer enjoyed their work.
2. It also means that you’ll never face a blank page. I’ve been known to skip ahead several chapters to write a certain scene once it’s popped into my head. I like to get it written while it’s fresh in my mind, but I know when I go back to write the parts in between that it’s coming up. The story is going somewhere.
3. Having a point to write to makes it a lot easier when you need to fill in the gaps. Working backwards, taking what is happening at point B and deciding what needed to happen after point A to reach that, is actually quite easy. Mainly because it limits your choices as to what the characters can do, because they’ve already done it.
That’s not to say this method isn’t without disadvantages. Just because a scene holds more interest for you doesn’t mean it’s necessarily more important. You can have a favourite scene that doesn’t actually serve the plot. Focusing on the set pieces at the expense of the narrative will leave you with the Michael Bay equivalent of a novel.
But the Fast Forward Method can help you to keep your momentum going. Given how many distractions there can be when you’re writing, that can only be a good thing!
Over to you! Have you ever written ‘out of order’? Would you be willing to give it a try? Let me know in the comments!
Icy Sedgwick is a writer, as well as Gothic Studies scholar specialising in Film. She blogs about folklore and speculative fiction at http://www.icysedgwick.com/ because it gives her an excuse to poke around in old graveyards! If you enjoy weird tales of ghosts and goddesses, you can get a free copy of her Harbingers: Dark Tales of Speculative Fiction short story collection at http://www.icysedgwick.com/harbingers/ . Find her on Twitter @IcySedgwick or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.