Do You Write Chronologically?

DSCN0797 by pippalou

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).

Copyright Andrea Lundgren 2016

Photo by pippalou, Creative Commons

9 thoughts on “Do You Write Chronologically?

  1. I start writing when I have a subject and 3 or 4 clear scenes in my mind: the beginning, the end and one or two in the middle. Often I write them immediately, because they must remain unchanged. Then I go in chronological order, so the characters can change from the original idea, develop themselves and grow with the story; and the story can change and generate subplots, too. I also write short stories, dialogues and sketches of life with my characters, not intended for the final readers, but to add deepness to their life and personality.

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      1. Yes, it may happen and usually it does. The important is to conserve the coherence and the inner logic of the plot. The story may evolve in an unsuspected way, but always with the end answering to the beginning with a cause-effect principle and the same for every internal part and subplots.

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      2. Hmmm. Having the freedom to alter a pre written future scene would be the only way jumping around would work for me. Usually, I just jot down any notes I have for a future scene (like the climax) but don’t write it. I’m worried that, once written, I’d still be trying to make the one fit the other and not be open to changing it enough.

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  2. I’d say go with what works so long as it gets the story on paper, or screen. If you have to move away from a chapter and come back later, that’s fine. Some writers know how they want the story to end and start with that. If it works, do it. Writer’s block, to me, means I’m interfering with the story somehow. Let it come organically, even if you have to go fill in the middle later.

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