Out of Order

A few weeks ago, I shared a couple of brainstorming techniques that help me when I reach a dead end while writing. A few other things that help me is to take a walk to refresh my mind or even putting aside my project for a day or two. Most often I come back from these breaks with a fresh perspective.

Today I’m going to share another technique that I sometimes use. True plotters and those who outline will probably cringe when they read this. I’m a planster, which means I create a basic plot that allows room for the story to develop itself as I write. I admit the technique I’m about to share isn’t for everyone, but it works for me.

I write out of order.

What? No way! You’re crazy.

Before you think I’ve gone off the deep end, consider this scenario: I’m in the middle of writing when it comes time to write a scene where my main character, whom I’ll refer to as Character A, meets the villain, Character B, for the first time. The MC doesn’t yet know or even suspect that Character B is the antagonist. This part is essential to the plot of the story and serves as a catalyst for future action.

Knowing the importance of this meeting, I need to get it right. I want to drop a few breadcrumbs for my readers without giving away too much information. The scene must leave readers thinking that Character B, although a little strange, is one of the good guys.

I need a little time to think it through. How can I best pull this off? Do I stop writing? Use one of my brainstorming techniques? Take a break?

I could do any of those things, but there’s one problem. Another scene, a future event has come to mind. I can’t let it go. It’s important that I don’t forget it. The need to get the words out of my head and into the computer is strong.

So, I write the scene that occurs later. Out of order. Then, I’ll come back and fix the problem with Character A meeting Character B.

You might ask how I keep things straight. It’s easy with Scrivener. With each new project, I create a folder titled “Future Scenes.” Within this folder, I create separate documents for each scene, just as I would if writing in order (I often have as many as five or six future events.) I give each section a title that helps me to identify them quickly.

When I reach the point of the book where it’s time to incorporate a scene into a chapter, I simply move it into the folder for that chapter.

If you use Word or some other type of word processing program, writing out of order may present more of a challenge. In that case, I would create separate documents for each scene, then copy and paste at the appropriate place in the manuscript.

A few words of advice. Don’t stray too far from your manuscript’s plot and try to write in order as much as possible. Make sure that each future scene you write fits within the story idea. Otherwise, you could end up with a convoluted mess.

Writing out of order may not work for everyone, but it has for me. If you’re stuck on a scene or chapter, why not give it a try sometime?

46 thoughts on “Out of Order

  1. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Joan. Your way of using “out of order” scenes elicited a knowing smile. Sometimes there’s a scene I just have to write, even though it is not in sequence. The characters demand it, and I’m always concerned I’ll forget the intricacies if I wait. Nice to know I’m not alone. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • It happens to me a lot, Gwen. Always takes a good deal of editing/revision when the time comes to drop the scene into the novel, but at least I have my intended purpose done. I’m glad to know I’m not alone! 🙂


  3. I’ve never considered writing put of order. I can certainly see the benefit of it. I have scrivener on my computer but never touched it. Good things to be thinking about.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Archer's Aim and commented:

    I wrote the beginning and the end of The White Arrow. I had the inspiration for the book from about chapter six on at that point so I wrote to the end and then filled-out the opening chapters to bridge to the rest of the book. It was way out of order. Read how Joan Hall writes out of order in today’s post on Story Empire. Bonus: it’s got a good Scrivener tip for handling a mix of scenes.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m pretty much a planster like you, Joan (trying to become a plotter), but I’ve never been able to write out of sequence. Over the years I’ve known many authors who write scenes out of order and then stitch them together. It always amazed me. As pantsy as I can be with my writing, that’s one step I’ve never been able to take, but kudos to you for making it work!

    Liked by 2 people

    • These out of order scenes are usually just enough to get my thoughts down. It often takes a lot of editing when I’m ready to incorporate it into the story. But, at least I have something.

      And I too am trying to become a plotter.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I like the idea… in theory. I don’t think I could do it, in practice. I have learned to trust my memory, which is odd because my memory is terrible. My theory is that if the idea were that good it would have stuck with me. I’m one that will add to my storyboard instead of writing ahead. Then I’ll deal with that scene when I reach that point on the storyboard.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If I was a disciplined as you are to make a storyboard, I wouldn’t have to write out of order. Most of the time, ideas come to me in the middle of the night. I figure if it’s good enough or important enough, I’ll remember, although I should keep a pen and notebook on my nightstand.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I like this. I too have a very organic way with plotting and allow my characters to make their minds up where they want things to go. Sometimes I write in characters only to take them out at a later stage. I treat them with respect and inter them in a proper temporary grave in a digital cemetery. Sometimes I dig them up for new projects.

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  8. I wrote most of my series with out of order scenes. I always create a timeline before I start writing, but timelines can be adjusted. I actually created new characters just because an inspiration would hit me, and I had to write the scene out. That scene led to new characters needing to be created for that subplot. If an inspiration hits, I’m writing it down. I’m not losing that character’s voice or situation just because his/her moment isn’t supposed to happen for another 10 chapters. In fact, the very first scene that I wrote from my first book was the last chapter. Lol! I wrote scenes for books 3-5 while I was still writing books 1 and 2. I just refused to believe that I would remember that scene two or three years later if I didn’t write it down, so I wrote as the inspiration hit me. Since I typed my series in Word, I used a physical journal to map out my story. I write future scenes on sheets of paper and then just staple them in when I get to where they fit into the story. It works for me! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sounds like we are a lot alike when it comes to writing. (I wrote the opening line of book three of my current series before I finished the first draft of book one.) I also do timelines (planning to do a future post here about that). I haven’t written an ending scene before the beginning, however. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Ha ha. Joan, you were right when you teased me about this post. It does make the plotter in me uneasy. I know a lot of writers use this method, and it really works for them. Crafting a scene you’re passionate about will always make it stronger than one you’re still mulling over, even if it’s out of order. But it can make transitions difficult and require more revisions to make earlier details fit seamlessly into the later scenes. I’m glad it works for you and so many others, but it makes me nervous!

    Maybe one of these days I’ll try it and see how it goes. Days the words don’t come easily are awful—might be freeing and fun if I loosened up and was less rigid w/rt writing in order.

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