Friday, February 21, 2014

Why You Should Write Your Novel Out of Sequence

Many authors on the message boards claim to write their novels in sequence, starting with chapter 1, then on to chapter 2, then chapter 3, all the way to the end.

That surprises me, because I don't write that way and I don't see how it could possibly be a good idea.
When I work on a novel manuscript, I write whatever part of the story inspires me at the time. It doesn't matter to me if that is the first chapter of the narrative or the last. Once I feel I have enough material for the book, that's when I arrange everything in order, and add whatever may be missing and smooth out the manuscript into its final form. That's the "hard work" part. Arranging all the creativity after it's all been written down.

But if I were writing in sequence, what would I do with all the creative ideas for scenes, characters and dialog that come to me that don't belong at the start of the book? That would mean ignoring and stifling my own creativity.

It's hard for me to believe authors ignore or simply don't think of all these ideas while writing their narratives. And if I don't write them down when I think of them, I risk forgetting and losing everything.

I haven't experienced writer's block. And I think one of the reasons is that I don't write in sequence. I write wherever inspiration takes me. That gives me more options, especially if nothing comes to me for the early chapters.

The second reason for avoiding writer's block is that I work on many book manuscripts at once. Perhaps too many. But when you juggle numerous book ideas and are willing to write at any point in any narrative, it's tough to not actually think of anything to write!

This is how my first novel Murder at the Library Conference was finished. After most everything was written, I then decided what needed to go in chapter 1, then chapter 2, etc. I fished around in the manuscript, found what I had decided was chapter 2, then cut and pasted it into that chapter in the final product.

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David Cardoso said...

Hey Stephen, I really liked your post, probably because I write out of sequence too. Trouble is I haven't been able to complete any of my novels despite my best attempts and despite writing tens of thousands of words. I can't seem to put it all together. Could you give me some tips or at least give me some insight into how you edit and put these separate pieces together.

Stephen Leary said...

Hi David:
I decide when it seems I have enough for the book and then I start with the opening chapter and what goes in it, then I cut and paste those paragraphs into it.

I figure out what events have to go in the first few chapters and cut and paste those things into separate files. I have separate files for chapters. I start with just a few files but then I create a bunch of separate files for each novel, one for each chapter. Then I number each file and start with the chapter 1 file and just figure out the order of events, what goes before or after what.

I did it for my first novel and now I'm doing it for my next one. Most of my time is spent now on arranging the chapters in order. I do it this way for short stories I'm writing now, too.

Maybe do a short story and then arrange each sentence afterward in the proper order. That's the way I do it!

Rosie Dean said...

Just googled 'writing out of sequence' as I feel that's what I need to do. Your article is music to my ears. Thanks!

Lindy said...

Great post. I'm working on my first novel and am a plotter, so have a strong idea of key points (with flexibility still built in). So I was going pretty well with the first few paragraphs then, even though I knew where I needed to go I froze for three weeks. I simply couldn't get my mojo. But during that time I did work (notes and outline) on other aspects of the story in terms of repeating thematic elements, character expansion, etc. Then it suddenly occurred to me, why am I writing this in order? I have several scenes I know I need to capture later and I don't feel bogged down by them. So I just googled writing out of sequence and came upon this instantly. Seems like a plan.

And for the person who writes out of sequence with no resolution, I really am a firm believer you need some sort of structure going in even if you're a pantser. You need to know the key moments at the very least. So that might be the issue there.