Scenes: Writing in Sequence or…Not
I’m getting started on another WIP (work in progress). It’s a historical YA, set in Chicago in 1913, just before the suffragette march on Washington, D.C. I’ve been reading and researchng and mulling for a while now, and I’ve even done a bit of basic plot and character work. And I’m thinking about writing.
The question is: Do I plot in more detail, at the scene-by-scene level, so I can write in sequence and develop the connections and transitions as I go? Or do I go at it a bit more randomly, picking a scene that’s calling to me and putting words on pages, a bit more isolated from what may come before or after?
Confession: I already did the second one. I’m developing a critique workshop for the Redwood Writers branch of the California Writers Club, and I needed a writing sample for the participants to critique. I played with just making something up out of the ozone, but a scene from the WIP kept pushing at me. It’s one of the first scenes in the book that I visualized, and it’s one of those crux moments (I think!). So, being as I had eaten too much chocolate that night, I got up out of bed and wrote it.
Yes, it felt great. And it started me thinking about the friends I have who write–well, randomly isn’t the right word, but they certainly don’t worry about writing scenes in sequence. Should I? Could I? (Have I mentioned here yet that I’m a bit of a control freak?)
So I’m thinking about the pluses and minuses of both methods. MY pluses and minuses. I really want to hear from all of you–about how you write, WHY you write that way, and what you think are the benefits and problems. Susan Taylor Brown has a post up today about why she chooses to write out of order.
Keep in mind, I believe that you need to have some kind of basic plot developed before you start with either of these methods. I’m also talking about a first draft here, although–if I thought about it–I could probably find applications for revision, also. (Another post, folks!)
Writing Scenes in Sequence
- When you finish a scene, you already know what’s coming next. Given that you’re writing as close to every day as you can, this means you’ve got a roll going and can move on to the next scene without that gaping void of what now? staring at you.
- You can get a feel for the rising tension of the story as you write. Yes, you’ll have to go back and tweak it, but you’ll be watching for it and have a sense of where each scene needs to fall in the pattern.
- You feel the balance, as you write, of when and why various characters are appearing in your story.
- You may (will!) find yourself writing scenes you aren’t interested in at the moment, ignoring another scene that’s really calling to you.
- You can get yourself pointed too strictly in one direction, a direction that may or may not be the best one for the story.
- You may focus too tightly on the plot and not see the character that you really need to develop.
Writing Scenes out of Order
- You get the freedom to write whichever scene you’re excited about, which probably increases the joy of your writing.
- You get more surprises, because you’re writing in less of a constricted “space.” Having less plan means there’s room for more spontaneity. (Okay, just WRITING this bullet makes me anxious!)
- You will see connections as they appear, rather than trying to assign connections you’ve already decided on.
- When you run out of scenes that you really want to write, you’re still looking at a whole lot of scenes that still need to be written.
- You may end up with a bunch of scenes that have no connection, that are episodes, not part of an actual story.
- You may struggle for ideas about what a scene needs to be doing.
Okay, Confession #2. I honestly thought when I started this post that I’d come down hard on the side of writing in sequence. Um…NOT. I was struggling to think of pluses for that method. Whereas when I got to writing scenes out of order, all of a sudden I was thinking…oh, yeah!
Now, this may be because, honestly, I don’t have 100% of my writing time to dedicate to this WIP right now. I’m over halfway through The Critiquer’s Survival Guide, but still have some serious work to do in the next few months. I’m trying to give as much evening time as I can to the story, but…family time, housework, all the life thingies need their minutes, too. As usual. So it’s very possible that the idea of picking scattered scenes to write just sounds more doable.
I’m also, though, looking back at the revision passes I made on my last book, the one I’m sending around to some agents. I can’t truly say that writing things in sequence gave me anything but the appearance of control (not that that’s a BAD thing!). And I’m seeing that, possibly, writing scenes out of order may actually let the story develop as it needs to, not just in the pattern I’ve decided it should follow.
CONCLUSION: I’m going to try it. I’m going to do a bit more plotting, focused on the most important scenes I can think of right now, and then I’m going to write them.
Until, at least, I go crazy trying. 🙂
What about you?