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?
Yikes on writing out of order! I’ve NEVER tried it. Is this weird?
Maybe I should try it sometime this year, as a writing exercise.
I know, I know! But I have friends who swear by it. If you check back sometime tomorrow, Susan Taylor Brown is going to post at her blog about how/why she does it, and I’ll have a link up. Or you can just go straight to susanwriters.livejournal.com
I do both. I mostly write in order but sometimes a scene will pop into my head whole. I write it up and then see where it fits in. Great discussion!
I’m hardly an expert but I sort of think that you can do both. Write mostly in order but if a particular scene is screaming for attention, get it down! Smooth out the transitions and details in editing but don’t ignore the scene that wants to be written. 🙂
I never consciously tried to write out of order, but when an idea strikes, I have created separate side-documents of my WIP with names such as “Where can I put this?”
Sometimes they fit within the grand scheme, sometimes not.
Like Liza Lee said, what matters is I obey when inspiration strikes. If I don’t, my writing suffers.
I love that “Where can I put this?” I have one of those that I wrote off an idea, and some stuff came that I had NO idea about. Again–that might be the biggest plus about this method.
I have done it every which way. One of your pluses for writing in sequence is that you know what you’re writing next. That’s not a plus for me because I often don’t know what should come next, so sometimes I’ll go forward and write out of order and then work my way back.
Two scenes I most often write out of order are the climax scene (since I write mystery, where the murderer is revealed and our heroine is in danger) and the final wrap up scene, where we see how all the threads of the story come together. I find that helps when I’m mired in the middle with no idea what to do next.
I JUST posted about this, too… You know Stephenie Meyer wrote the sparkling-vampire-in-a-field scene after dreaming it, then filled in the novel aroud that? I think everyone’s got their methods, and right now I’m leaning towards as middle-as-the-road as possible!
Terri, I’m actually thinking of writing that scene next–well, I can’t remember whether it’s the climax or the crisis! It was gelling (jelling?) in my mind last night, and I got somewhere on it just laying in bed. And the scene I just wrote, I know has something to do with that opening crisis/thresholdy-type place. I’m going to look at those Ten Scenes in the Writer’s little Helper and see what that gets me.
And in case anyone is wondering, Terri is proof that both methods work–, she’s already on her sixth wonderful mystery! Check her out at http://www.territhayer.com
Susan, I’m going to hop over & check out your post.
You’re sweet, but my website is so outdated, it’s embarrassing. Just proof I can’t do it all!
I just finished a novel I’ve been writing in my spare time for five years. (See, I’m a partner in an accounting firm (so obviously planning and control are important!), a mother, wife, etc.). Anyway, I got stalled for a VERY long time in the middle because, even though I had a plot outline and knew where the story was going, I was not inspired about the part I was writing. So finally I gave in to the urge to write a part of the book that had been nagging at me for a long time (and yes, the reason I had resisted so long was because I didn’t like the idea of skipping around). But let me tell you, it TOTALLY unlocked my creativity and (some might say) my writer’s block. I went nuts after that, and the words started flowing. I jumped around all through the rest of the writing, but never lost inspiration using that approach all the way through the completion of my novel. It even re-energized me to go back and re-write the first, very dry parts of my book. So now I’m all about following the inspiration. I think that’s what really allowed me to tap into my Gift (which I believe is from God, though I won’t comment on how strong a gift it may be).
Well, it can get people started with your books. 🙂
Mary-Frances, thanks! Yes, that’s how I’ve done it in the past. I’m a bit worried about loosening up on this next wip, but I think I’m more afraid of not trying something out of fear–if that makes sense!
First–congratulations on finishing–that’s wonderful! And I like to hear about this skipping around being a good thing for creativity. That’s what I’m hoping for.
I think you’re right. I’m going to stop fighting it for a while and just see where the story takes me.
It’s so funny that you were in bed gelling/jelling the scene because I swear some of my best ideas come when I’m just about to fall asleep or just waking up and then I have to leap out of bed and write it down before I forget. I’ve started keeping a “dream journal” by my bed for all these ideas. And although I tend to write in sequence, I definitely have times when I have a fabulous idea (or so it seems at the time!) that I just have to write right then. So I guess I’m both?
The drowsy time thing almost never happens to me, but every now & then I’m too tired to read, which stinks, but not yet ready to fall asleep.
Probably both. I have NEVER written out of seqeunce before, so this will be quite the new thing!
I start off writing in order, but as the story progresses, I find that I end up thinking about a future scene and want to focus on it. Though I end up going back to where I left off. I justify it by telling myself this helps me figure out what I need to do to get from one scene to the next.
I think you’re right, Vivian, it probably does. I’m kind of playing with the idea of writing the critical early and near-the-end scene and then thinking about their connections and what needs to come between.
I’ve been dwelling over the thought of writing out of sequence because I’m currently uninspired by the scene at hand, and I am glad to have found this post. I’m going to try this and hope to finally free myself from the control freak inside of me.
Oh, I bet your control freak is cousin to mine! I’m trying to push that one away, too, a bit. Good luck–I hope a little more freedom works. 🙂