Writing Out of OrderI’m here to talk to you about the crazy fun of writing out of order. If you’re struggling with your novel, or the idea of writing 50,000 words in a month scares you, you might want to try this.
For the last two years I’ve been writing books out of order. It started when I was stressed out and distracted during NaNoWriMo and didn’t want to give up my winning streak (I’m currently 8 for 8). So I decided I was going to write whatever scene I came up with next, whether that was in order or not. If I was working on a sub plot and got excited about where that would lead, I followed that trail for a while even though the scenes would be spread out in the final book. Or if I couldn’t figure out what happened next, I jumped to a different plot thread.
This made writing so much easier.
I flipped back and forth between the main plot and sub plots, or wrote a random scene with characters just talking. Most of those random scenes became part of other plots or started new ones.
By the end of November I had a 50,000 word book, the start of a new series, and my 7th NaNoWriMo win.
Of course, all along I had a nagging voice whispering that the book would be chaos and a nightmare to fix during editing. I firmly told it, “That’s a December problem.” (This is a powerful phrase to use when battling your Inner Editor.)
Here’s the biggest surprise: it wasn’t nearly as much work as I thought.
My muse is a lovely creature and kept track of where things would generally fit. There was definitely some shuffling involved, trying to decide the exact sequence of events and balancing POVs and things like that. And I had to read through and make sure I adjusted things as needed -- if event A hasn’t happened yet, the characters shouldn’t mention it during this lunchroom scene.
Keep in mind I’ve written and edited a number of novels. If this is your first, you’ll likely have more work to do on your second draft. I suggest writing a second novel before editing the first. Writing a new book will teach you more about story, structure, character, etc than writing a dozen drafts of novel #1.
So back to my out-of-order novel. I had such a good time that when I started a new book I wrote that out of order, too.
“Ok,” you say, “I’m intrigued. But how does that actually work?”
Well, here’s where I tell you Scrivener is your best friend. You can write in any program (I use Google Docs on my Chromebook when I’m away from home) but Scrivener makes organizing and editing a dream.
Here’s a screenshot of my current book, with a few spoilery things blacked out:
The scenes have very brief descriptions to help me remember what happens, and over in the synopsis section at the top right, I put a slightly longer description. The orange flag marks a scene I need to write later.
When using Gdocs, I put the scene info in brackets: [Aiden and Dylan practice fire spells]. I also use brackets to write notes to myself: [Or do they know about this?]. And for missing information such as names. I can get through a whole book with a secondary character named [wolf girl] or [archer].
I’m a gleeful pantser, but this could also work for someone who outlines. You have your scene list all ready to go and jump to what you feel like writing that day. Stressed out and want to write that cool fight scene in the middle of the book? Go for it! Not in the mood for writing that super sad scene while you’re sitting in a coffee shop? Save it for when you’re at home and can cry without feeling self-conscious.
What happens if you write a scene and decide you need to change something? Time for more brackets! Write a note to yourself and move on.What if you hate the scene and it’s haunting you? Write it over again. I’ve written the same scene from two different POVs to see which one was better. They’re all words, they all count for NaNo!
What you’re doing is not fixed in stone. You’re finger painting, building towers of blocks, squishing Play-Doh between your fingers. You’re letting your creative self out to play and this should be fun.
So have fun. Make a mess. I wish you many happy words this November.
About the Author
Devin Harnois has eight published novels and he’d have more if he spent less time on Twitter and playing Dragon Age. He collects skull items and only a strong will prevents his apartment from being overrun by them. Devin lives in Minneapolis with a lazy cat and a wild imagination.
Find Devin at:
Aiden discovers a new world when his changeling powers manifest. Forced to move to Shadow Valley, he struggles with the fear of his powers and his strange classmates. When he meets bad boy Dylan, a dragonkin, they begin an unlikely friendship. But something dark stalks their dreams, tempting them with their heart’s desire.
When Dylan makes a dangerous choice, will Aiden’s friendship be enough to save him?
How to Make Friends and Not Incinerate People is available at Amazon.
He followed the mass of students to the lunchroom. Seeing the food woke him up but did nothing for his appetite. Do I even want to know what that stuff is? Piles of meat, some of it not cooked, tall bottles full of red liquid, roasted insects. Aiden put a hand to his mouth and started to turn away.
“Hey, new kid.” It was the handsome boy from homeroom, Dylan. “I think you want that side.” He pointed to the other end of the lunchroom where kids were filling their trays from a different buffet line.
“What’s over there?”
The corner of Dylan’s mouth turned up. “Human food.”
A pale boy with hunched shoulders pushed past Aiden and grabbed a tray, filling his plate with raw meat. Aiden’s stomach rolled again, and he tried hard not to breathe in the smells. He followed Dylan to the other side of the room, sure he wasn’t going to be able to eat anything no matter what was over there. Still, he let out a sigh of relief when he saw a pile of salad.
“There’s nothing weird about this, right?” he asked Dylan.
“Nope. Regular human food.”
“Why are there two different lines?”
Dylan shrugged. “Food safety or something. And for the squeamish ones like you.” He smirked again. God, he was handsome.
Aiden thought he should try to eat something, so he got salad and an apple. Dylan got a cheeseburger with a huge pile of fries, and the sight of the meat made Aiden queasy. At the end of the line, he expected to see a cashier, but there wasn’t one. That’s right. Mr. Johnson had said meals were free.
Dylan sat down at an empty table and Aiden set his tray down across from him.
“Who said you could sit there?” Dylan snapped.
Feeling cold, Aiden lifted his tray. So much for making friends.
As he turned, Dylan said, “Hey. I didn’t mean that. You can sit if you want.”
Aiden hesitated. Dylan probably only felt sorry for him. What kind of sad puppy face was he making? Glancing over the room, he looked for Maggie. She was too energetic, but at least she was nice. He didn’t see her, and the tables were filling up. Everybody already had friends, probably ones they knew from middle school, even elementary school.
Holding back a sigh, he sat down across from Dylan. He thought he should say something, but didn’t know what. Thank him? Tell him not to be a jerk? Dylan picked up his cheeseburger and started eating. Aiden poked at his salad.
Some other kids sat at the far end of the table, giving them odd glances. As more and more kids found seats, the side where Aiden and Dylan sat stayed empty. Kids walking by gave them odd looks.
Finally, Aiden had to say something. “Why isn’t anyone sitting with us?”
“It’s me, not you,” Dylan said between bites of fries. The cheeseburger was already gone.
“Why?” Aiden started to worry that he was sitting next to something so dangerous that other monsters didn’t want to get near it.
Dylan shrugged. “People don’t like me.”
Aiden rolled his apple around on his plate. “Why? What are you?”
Dylan gave him a look and there was something in his eyes, a glint or a glow. It made Aiden feel like something small and helpless, a mouse standing in front of a lion. Then it faded and a slight hint of a smile touched Dylan’s lips.
“You’ll find out.”