Do You Write Chronologically?

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by Andrea Lundgren

Recently, I’ve been dealing with…well, we won’t call it writer’s block. I wasn’t out of things to write, merely stumped on how to get from Point A to Point B without creating major plot holes. And it was very tempting to just skip the problematic bit and go ahead to the next chapter or section, where I knew how things would unfold.

I’ve heard that some writers actually do this. They jump ahead to the scenes they feel ready to write and come back to deal with the others. Because it’s all on an outline, and they know where they’re going, they can write the “Death Star exploding” before figuring out how to get Princess Leia off the space station in the first place.

I’ve never really jumped around like that within a novel, but in some ways, I have written out of chronological order. My first novel in my science-fiction/fantasy series happens in “modern time,” and there’s a lot of history in their world that I haven’t written. I plan to write books set in their medieval and colonial time periods, though, so I have to know some of what happened and how things unfolded…but I’ve jumped past it and plan to deal with the details later.

So I wanted to examine some pros and cons to writing out of chronological order.

 

The Pros:

  • Following inspiration. I think this is the biggest perquisite to writing out of order. Feel like writing a romance scene? Just straight to that part. Want to deal with action? Go to the battle. You don’t have to write things as they unfold, so you can be more productive, using the time you have to write instead of chipping away at a plot snarl you haven’t solved yet.
  • Getting a fresh perspective. When you’ve been working and reworking the same scene, it can get old, and you sometimes need a break so you can come back with “fresh eyes.” What better way than to jump ahead to a different part in the plot and come back later?
  • Foreshadowing and clear direction. Knowing how the future unfolds, down to the exact lines, can help with foreshadowing and weaving in themes. If you discover that your climax centers on family relationships, you can start weaving that in earlier rather than leaving it to the “going-back-and-editing” stage. Discover a plot thread is super-important? Note it and, when you write the earlier scenes, be sure to put it in.

 

The Cons:

  • Fragmented timeline. Readers typically experience a book from front to back, and if you write it out of order, you can miss out on things like flow and plot. One thing no longer builds and leads to another naturally, and you find yourself having to make characters go certain ways “because that’s how you’ve written the next scene.”
  • Organic growth in every direction. If you are at all a panster, where you follow the leadings of your characters, writing out of order can really mess you up. In one scene, a character may grow one way when in reality, knowing what has just happened a few chapters back, they’d be more likely to grow a different direction. It’s far easier to feel as a character would feel if you and they share the same linear timeline.
  • Lots to edit. Correcting all the “who knows what when, who has what when” problems can add up to a lot more edits. It’s a bit like what happens in movies. Since they’re shot out of order, there are continuity errors that simply wouldn’t happen in real time. Does he have a book at this point? A hat? A wounded right arm? Keeping track of all these details, even if they’re minor, can lead to tons of time spent in organizing or hours and hours in the editing chair.

So there you are. Three reasons to give it a try…and three reasons why I doubt I’ll ever write a novel in anything other than linear fashion (even though the jumping around sounds tempting).

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Andrea Lundgren. Andrea enjoys books and all
things writing–from how we write to why we write–and her blog
explores things from a writer’s point of view.


226373498_dacf4f263f_bNeed help with your book or novel? Check out the Writer’s Toolbox, a list of free, discounted, and overall helpful links to tools and benefits to help you with what you do best: writing.


 

 

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29 thoughts on “Do You Write Chronologically?”

  1. It only works well for writers with what I call WADD, like me. Only if I do it, I make a written note of where the scene goes later. I notoriously write out of sequence, but imagine my shock of finishing 360 pages of story in order! The notes helped put everything in place. The rub is remembering to make the note. 😊

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  2. I reblogged this, too. This challenged me for the same reasons. Eventually, like TKWR, I devised several methods for dealing with it that solves the problem but adds new challenges. It’s messy, in a way, but I like that messiness, feeling that it stimulates my creativity. Excellent post. Happy writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A very fascinating post. It made me stop and reflect on the importance of keeping the writing flow going. For the most part, I think we are all creatures of habit By habit I mean that we develop a comfortableness with a process we are utilizing. As an educator, I learned that “true” learning occurs when there is a bit of discomfort in what we know and what we are learning. That discomforting experience is an indicator that we are growing. So, switching up our practice is a good thing. Isn’t creating our stories like putting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. Sometimes, we can not always find all of the straight edges for the border. So, we concentrate on certain objects and then a light bulb comes on and we can easily see the edges. In the long run the goal is to complete the puzzle (story). Editing and revising will take care of the rough edges.

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  4. You may be making too much of writing out of chronological order. In traditional fashion, you keep the action rising, although in troughs and swells, to make a seaman’s analogy. Just make sure the backstory amplifies the “now” aspects of your story. You’ll see that thinking of backstory in this way makes the troughs and swells of “now” even more vivid.

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  5. Typically, I don’t write chronologically because I snag scenes as the inspiration comes (sometimes in weird places, not many of them at home). However, I store them in files based on the chronological outline of the story, so I know where to slot them in. The down side? Lots of work connecting the scenes. The advantage? I capture an essence, an authenticity, I couldn’t have while sitting at a desk. I also don’t lose out on good flow of new content if it happens to be farther along in the story. I just skip to that part and go. I’ve been known to write a draft version of the climax early on, often following the inciting incident/intro of the problem. A level of continuity is maintained.

    I do write chronologically under certain conditions: (1) during processing of the novel (filling in missing scenes and transitions; editing/revising previous scenes) to create the first complete draft, (2) during NaNoWriMo, and (3) if the story events present themselves chronologically to me.

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  6. I write chronologically and I do face these cons sometimes.
    It needs a lot of time to build up a single work sometimes when the inspiration does not strike or due to editing.
    Great article and really helpful!
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My first two novels were not written chronologically – I would write whatever scene inspired me at the time. I found the editing a pain because of it, but that’s the way I roll. However, the story unfolded chronologically once I’d edited. Then in my WIP, I went one step further (maybe too far, I now realise) by writing two versions of some of the scenes. Not only that, but the story begins after a gap of fifteen years from the end of the last one,which means there are memories/flashbacks to contend with. In addition there are two main protagonists who both have these gaps to fill in – it’s a nightmare! I will never do that again, but it’s a great learning curve!

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  8. Like most “planned trips,” there are always surprises while traveling. However, I never get behind the wheel until I’m certain where I’m headed. I’d rather follow the map than find myself lost in unknown territory or in a ditch on the side of the road! 🙂

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  9. I think you’ll find that most writers will approach a story out of order to a certain extent. The plotter will work out the main events of the story from start to finish before actually writing. The pantser just follows a subplot for as far as their brain will allow, then they go back and fill in the gaps. How you get that story down on paper is completely irrelevant, as long as you get it down. You can’t edit a blank page.

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  10. I usually write in roughly chronological order, although on the few occasions when I’ve written following a fairly detailed plan, sometimes I’ve written short scenes that came to me and I knew where they good go best.

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  11. I’m as perplexed as you are, Andrea. I’m not a true plotter or pantser, and sit someplace in the vast between. I’m at that place in my WiP where I do not know how to get my protagonist from point A to B, as you say. If I skip to a scene farther down the trail, will I even figure out what happened before that scene? I’m terrified of having a humongous plot hole that I can’t fill.

    Maybe looking at this from the perspective of a minor character would help. Maybe it’s a case of not being able to see the forest because of all the darn trees being in the way.

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  12. I always write in chronological order for my first draft. The audience are experiencing the story in that order, so I should write the story with that structure so that any plot holes are easier to spot, and I can fix them without revising everything from there. Writing in chronological order reinforces each scene, which build-upon each other. And then, once the first draft’s finished, I’ll rewrite specific scenes when I need to, because only then can I see the whole story.

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    1. That’s what I tend to do, but I’m amazed by how many authors work in non-chronological order and still manage to piece together a whole novel. It definitely lets you keep writing even when a plot element has you stumped. I’m just not sure I could do it. I think too sequentially. 🙂

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  13. I’m actually in awe of people who can approach novels in this way, especially early drafts. For me, I need to blurt it all out onto the page (well, screen) and then fit it in edits. If I can’t get past a particular point, I don’t go anywhere. Means I have to force myself.

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  14. It works well for me when I write quickly. If I’m a good girl, I can get a 100k draft done in about three months and typically during that time I don’t make a lot of mistakes when it comes to characterization, world-building, or events. However, writing out of order over the course of two years has caused a great deal of continuity issues. Actually, writing in order without outlining at that time caused me issues period.

    One of the harder things I realized, when I write out of order, is that I don’t know what the character knows yet. I’ll come up with something that probably will be explained earlier, but actually hasn’t, so correcting it in later drafts became an issue.

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