Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Writing 101: Skipping Around

Many stories are told in a linear fashion (first this happened, then this happened), but you don't have to write your books that way. Skipping around is a time-honored writing tradition that can help you get past tricky scenes, writer's block and plot problems. When your book just isn't behaving itself, try skipping to a different part of the story -- you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

 Skipping Around

I have to stay pretty organized when I write, because I get distracted easily by little details. If I don't have a path to follow, I'll end up wandering off into the weeds. So usually, I write my books from beginning to end and that's that. But sometimes, skipping around is the only possible solution to a tricky writing problem -- and I had to face it myself. I'm currently working on Judgment, the last book in the Deck of Lies series, and so far I've been all over the place story-wise. What I've learned is that sometimes, skipping around is necessary. 
  • Can't stop. I'm a big advocate of doing the proper research to make your book believable, but you can't always stop to look something up when you're in the fiction zone. If words are flowing freely and you're truly feeling inspired, you may not want to stop to check facts. Skip around the parts you need to research to keep the prose going, but make sure you write a note to yourself within the manuscript so you know what you skipped. I put my notes in different colors from the rest of the text, so they stand out. You can also use capital letters and symbols to distinguish notes that you need to see. 
  •  Stuck. Not all scenes are created equal. You might need to kill a character, write a love scene or create something extremely dramatic on the page -- and it's hard. If you're good and stuck on something specific, skip ahead to the next scene and see how it goes. Once your words are flowing again and you get yourself loosened up, re-visit that difficult scene and it might be easier to write.
  • Flashbacks and out-of-time moments. There are lots of reasons you might need to write scenes out of order. A character might experience an in-depth flashback or a long memory. You might write half a scene in an early chapter of your book, then conclude the scene in a later chapter. If it's easier for you to skip ahead and get these scenes written before you would naturally get to them when writing your book, do it! 
  • Plot. Writers don't always have all the answers, not even when it comes to their own books. I like to plot things out before I start writing, but some writers prefer to see where the story takes them. If you're having a plot problem that you just can't figure out, try skipping ahead to see what happens. The simple act of writing and getting back into the story may spark something and help you plug in that plot hole.
Skipping around and writing scenes out of order can help you get your book written if not more efficiently than at least more beautifully, but there's a danger there, too. Always read your book in a linear fashion, from beginning to end, the way readers will be enjoying it. Make sure the scenes you wrote out of order don't deviate from the flow of your book. They must make sense, fit in and read like every other part of the book. The danger of skipping around is writing jerky, disjointed scenes and pieces of prose that just don't seem to fit. Make sure this doesn't happen with solid re-reading, and edit as needed to keep your tone consistent throughout.

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1 comment:

  1. This post describes my process almost to a tee. I skip around like a madman. A lot of my story developed out a piece of interesting dialog and then I start asking questions. When did it happen? Where did it happen? How did it happen? What happens next?
    I almost never write linearly and I love it!