Writing Out of Order

Writing Out of Order

By on July 01, 2014 . Category Column

I recently had a prospective writer approach me about sequence. He wanted to write a memoir where the timeline was out of order, but he wasn’t sure how.

I told him a book is just like a puzzle. You can jumble up the pieces anyway you please, but they should eventually fit together. In other words, there are many ways to accomplish the out-of-order sequence if the end result makes sense. I personally don’t think it should be done just for the sake of it. There has to be a reason. Why are you telling the story out of sequence? What is your motivation? What’s the purpose? Answer those questions and it will help you navigate your writing.

Now, if you know the beginning, middle and end of your tale, you could identify some sort of universal thread or theme and then use flashback and/or flash-forward sequences for theme reiteration.

Or, you could start in the middle, see which direction the pen goes and then circle around for the rest of the tale.  You could also alternate chapters in past and present tense where the end and the beginning of the story will eventually meet at a particular moment in time.

Write from different characters’ point of views and intermingle their perspectives. You could even write in terms of subjects or categories versus linear time. It is personal preference and topic specific. What works for one writer might not work for another; what works for one book might not work for another.

I can’t speak for others, but sometimes my writing takes on a life of its own. I don’t always know where it will go. Sometimes it’s best to just let the story unfold and then re-read it to see if there are natural places where one storyline could intersect with another. If that’s the case, make notes for yourself within the text and highlight them for easier reference. For example: (insert story X here).

Piggybacking on that thought, I ended up recommending that he outline the major life events, pivotal moments and/or crossroads that he wanted to include. Then told him he should write each story as a separate entity and see if they piece together in a certain way or if any natural connections form.

I personally believe restrictions on creativity can be, well, restricting. It’s better to let the writing be organic and then in the editing process you can play around with sequence. Let the story tell itself. Maybe it will veer out of sequence all on its own. All you have to do is write and then Write On…



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