There are essentially two ways in which you can draft a longer work of fiction:
You can draft it linearly, in the same way a reader would read it, writing chapters in their logical order.
Or you can draft it out of sequence, jumping forward and back, to:
- write all chapters related to a specific sub-plot in their logical sequence,
- write all chapters (or scenes) from a certain character’s POV (to keep their voice consistent more easily),
- write all chapters that happen in a specific setting separately, so as to keep the mood & feel of that setting consistent more easily,
- write all battle scenes while you’re in a battling mood; then write only romance scenes on another day, etc.
There are a lot of advantages to writing out of sequence. This is hands-down the BEST THING I discovered while I drafted The Prime Rift, and I’m eager to share it with you guys.
Before moving on to the advantages, there are a few caveats.
This method of drafting might not work so well (or work differently) for pantsers, depending on how much they know about their story beforehand. The whole appeal of pantsing a story is usually that the writer doesn’t know what’s going to happen later on. So they won’t be able to jump back and forth very far. But it’s still a method worth considering, if only because by jumping forward even just a little bit (say, to the next scene), you can get a much better feel for what you need to nail right now to make the story stronger. It’s sort of like drafting and revising in the same run.
Which is why it can become problematic for some plotters, as well. Some people love separating drafting from editing & revising, and prefer to burn through the first draft without stopping or looking back (or even looking left and right). These are usually writers who make dozens of notes for later, and just keep drafting. Their method of writing is super fast, focused, and… something I can’t sustain over longer periods of time.
That’s where writing out of sequence — with its many advantages — comes into play.
1. No more writer’s block
No more getting stuck on hard days, or before difficult story segments.
Just visualize your novel like a landscape. Your plot is the road you’re taking to explore this landscape at its fullest. If it’s an amazing landscape, it will have all a traveler’s heart desires: curves and bends, hills and valleys, rivers, forests, and mountains. But this makes your road a lot more difficult to walk on. Some days you’ll end up in front of a rocky mountain and have no energy to climb it.
If you’re a linear writer, your best choice is to try and motivate (or push, or cajole) yourself into doing it anyway. But you already know you won’t enjoy it, and that makes this part of your trip a potentially dangerous one, prone to mistakes and twisted ankles. Your other choice is to set up camp, and wait for a better day when you feel like climbing mountains. Sounds like writer’s block for outliners.
Writer’s block is usually understood be caused by not knowing what comes next, or not having the energy to face it. So if you could skip it for now, and move on to something you can see coming, or have the energy to write, you’re essentially kicking writer’s block in the balls.
If you write out of sequence, you can just skip the mountain on those slow days and go sail down a river instead. Or traipse through the tulips. And when you one day wake up and are like “Yeah, I can do this, bring it on!” you go back to that mountain and take a helluva hike up its rockface, feeling glorious. Writing out of sequence helps you do that.
And you can take it even a step further.
2. You can always make progress
Maybe on some days you just can’t concentrate. Or you only have tiny windows of time when you can write, because life happens. If you write out of sequence, you can just write a single paragraph on an easier scene. Then, if you can, jump to write just the first sentence of another scene. Next little window of time (or energy) you can carve out, go and add a few more lines of dialog in the middle of another scene. Maybe add more description to that third chapter. Or introduce a new character later on. And so on.
This way you can make progress even on days which you would have normally scratched off. You can still work on your draft even when you can’t get a specific block of writing time in one piece. By writing out of sequence, those 5 minutes here and there will effectively increase your wordcount, all without you having to “get in the mood” of a specific scene.
3. You get increased story coherence
This is a big advantage for me. I have this insufferable thing where I can’t move on with the story — especially after I change something compared to the initial outline — before I go back and fix the logical points leading up to this change.
I usually start out a new draft by writing in a straight line, until I reach a point where I re-plot something. Before I can continue, I just have to go back and insert (or change) things in the part of the draft I’ve already written, to make the plot feel consistent.
I could technically do this in revision (the second draft), but I just can’t. I can’t think straight if I’ve got a chunk of draft behind me with huge holes in it. So I’m forced, at one point, to write out of sequence. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t go back and edit what I’ve written. I go back and insert extra chapters or scenes, or delete some and move whole chunks around. Landscape architecture at its dirtiest.
It’s entirely possible to just make a note of the things you need to change, and go implement those changes when the whole draft is done. But I find that it’s not the optimal way. First of all, you might not entirely remember all the tiny nuances of the needed change by the time you get around to it. Second, if you make the change now, you might discover a new aspect that will require you to adapt something further up ahead. If you only make this change after the draft is done, you’ll have a lot more work on your hands (and a tendency to avoid it and thus shortcut your way out). And third, when your draft is done, your editing to do list will be a lot slimmer & more manageable. I’ve yet to hear a writer complain they only have to do minor edits on the second draft. 😉
What also happens (to me, at least) is that sometimes there are scenes further up ahead that I just itch to write. Holly Lisle calls them “candy bar scenes,” and they really do feel like treats you just can’t help salivating over, even while you’re still eating your veggies. So when I find that the buzz of a future scene becomes really distracting, and I’m rushing through the current scene (or story part) to get there faster, I stop, jump forward, and write that candy bar scene. Get it out of my system. Have a blast! Then go back and continue where I left off with a clear head and more care and attention.
As you see, writing out of sequence has a wealth of benefits. And it can be quite fun, too. It really makes you feel like you’re the God of your story, able to do as you please, go wherever you want and explore whatever you feel like when you feel like it. I’m certainly not the only writer loving it (just check out this little gem of writing advice: “Writing Faster FTW” by L.A.Witt; she swears by out-of-sequence writing to overcome procrastination).
How about you?
Have you ever written out of sequence? What benefits (or drawbacks) does it have for you? And if you haven’t already, are you willing to give it a try?