5 Reasons to Write Your Scenes in Order (and 3 Not to)

Should you ever write scenes out of order? Here you are, ready to start in on a new story, and you have one particular scene just begging to be written. Maybe it’s the scene that inspired the story, or maybe it’s just as easier scene than the one you’re currently faced with. If you go ahead and write that scene now, will it harm your overall story? Or, just maybe, will taking a non-linear storytelling approach offer untold benefits?

The answers to these questions aren’t absolute. Ultimately, your personality, writing style, and even each individual story will determine what works best for you. As a decidedly linear storyteller (and an outliner on top of it), I’ve only rarely written a scene out of order—and, even then, only when I’ve realized I needed to go back and insert a scene into previously written chapters.

Most writers follow that same path. Linear writing just makes sense. It creates a forward-moving expansion of time, just like our own lives. But some writers find writing scenes out of order actually frees their creativity.

So what should you do? Let’s explore some of the benefits to both linear and non-linear writing, so you can decide for yourself.

Five Reasons to Write Your Scenes in Order

1. You’ll be able to maintain natural evolution and continuity.

When we write stories in their natural order, we’re able to organically build their arcs. Each piece fits together, because each piece builds upon the previous one without any unnecessary finagling.

2. You won’t waste time on unnecessary scenes.

Sometimes those killer scenes we envision early on end up not working out like we think they will. We can save ourselves time (and the heartache of killing some darlings) if we can spot extraneous or incorrect scenes before we write them.

3. You won’t lose steam on the less interesting scenes.

If you run ahead of yourself and write all the juicy scenes, what are you going to have to look forward to as you slog through the necessary transitions that remain?

4. You’ll be able to better track your overall story.

If your scenes are all hither and yon, you’ll likely have a harder time keeping track of where they fit within the overall plan. But if you write them in order, you can watch your story arc build naturally—and better spot areas that aren’t quite working.

5. You can avoid ending up with a bunch of brilliant pieces that don’t fit together.

All those wonderful scenes you’re in hurry to write may indeed be brilliant in their own right. But, by the time you’re finished, they may not fit together quite as seamlessly as you were hoping.

Three Reasons Not to Write Your Scenes in Order

1. You’ll remember scene ideas.

Our memories can be slippery little devils. Sometimes the only way to make certain we’ll remember a scene in all its white-hot glory is to go ahead and write it down, even if it doesn’t yet fit into the linear scheme things.

2. You’ll be able to move past blocks.

Sometimes you’re stumped on a particular part of your story to the point that the whole book has stalled. You’re faced with either walking away from the story for a while, writing anyway and hoping you’ll strike gold, or moving on to a different scene. All three are viable options, but the latter offers the extra benefit of potentially giving you new insight into your story, which can then help you see around your block.

3. You’ll be able to work backwards to discover how best to build up to important scenes.

In Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, I suggest the technique of reverse outlining to help you understand the cause and effect between important scenes. The same technique can work just as well (if not quite as tidily) in your first draft. If you know where you need to go, sometimes it can then be easier to figure out what you need to do to get there.

Although most writers choose storytelling methods that are predominately linear or non-linear, this doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. No matter which method works best for you, you may find it worthwhile to occasionally experiment with different techniques, both to gain a new perspective on your work and to perhaps find a new tool for your writing workbag.

Tell me your opinion: Do you prefer to write scenes linearly or non-linearly? 

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Montgomery Thompson says

    I get the whole story in my head including the feeling I want the reader to walk away with. Then I outline characters and names. Then I write the whole book in rough language, essentially making notes to nyself about the plot: ‘Bob goes upstairs and finds Bill. Jill is in basement disposing of Jane’s body but Bob doesn’t know.’ stuff like that. Then I go back and write the whole first draft.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s basically my approach as well. The “rough language” draft is my outline, which often fills up three notebooks before I’m finished.

  2. I write unimportant and normal life situations scenes occasionally, but haven’t much written a scene ahead of time.
    Once I did tried it, but it ended up in my trash pile, since it wasn’t working. I didn’t knew what pieces were floating around, and whom to tie together to make the end seem compelling.
    That makes me a linear writer.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It all depends on how your brain is wired. Once you understand that, you can optimize the process you’re probably already using.

  3. When I first started working on my novel a few years ago, I tried to write linear but everything just seemed rushed. If I try to write linear now, it’s a lot easier now that I understand my characters and how they think, but I still prefer to write in a non-linear fashion. It’s like a game of connect the dots. My family does make fun of me for “not having anything written in two years” because they believe novels to be written in a linear fashion however. The one good thing about writing non-linear, is that it’s much easier to foreshadow.

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