Are You Insane Enough to Write Your Story Out of Order?

This is not for the faint of heart. The technique requires plenty of organization and structure. Those are things I’m typically got at. However, I’ve never tried this before, so the whole endeavor could blow up in my face.

Three Act Structure
To start, you need a firm grasp of the three act structure. Syd Field does an amazing job when he outlines screenplays. Going out of order makes sense with screenplays because most films are shot out of order. These are more for budgetary reasons than pure drama.

The basic structure looks like this:

Act I

  • Inciting Incident (what gets the story rolling.)
  • Plot Point 1 (a surprising event that forces the protagonist to make an important decision and typically enter a new world.)

Act II

  • Pinch 1 (This is a twist that reminds the reader of the central conflict in the story.)
  • Midpoint (A second major change where the protagonist must make an important decision. This may involve a reversal of fortune.)
  • Pinch 2 (A second twist that furthers the central conflict of the story)
  • Plot Point 2 (A reversal of fortune that forces the protagonist to come into direct conflict with the antagonist.)

Act III

  • Climax (the showdown between protagonist and antagonist)
  • Denouement (All the loose ends are tied up)

Writing Out of Order
The most important scenes in the story are outlined in the three act structure. What if, instead of starting from page one and trudging through page after page and scene after scene, we went about it in a different way? What about narrowing in on the most important scenes and writing them first.

The idea is that the minor scenes between these are often building to their major counterparts. As you begin Act II, your writing is building first to the pinch 1 and then to the midpoint. Everything else essentially boils down to transition scenes.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to have too many extra scenes. Ones that drag on with no clear cut goal. If I could get the main scenes down, then I could use them to drive the whole story.

Here what I propose to try (and we’ll see if it works). The Midpoint is the turning point for the whole story. There the protagonist makes a major decision that can affect the entire story. It’s the hardest to write because it’s stuck in the no man’s land of Act II.

Homing in on the Center

  • Write the climax first. It’s the most exciting bit of fiction anyway. Get  it out of your system. Plus, you can revise later
  • Next, write Plot Point 1. This ends ACT I and leads to a major change for the protagonist.
    (NOTE: Usually I already have the inciting incident stuck in my head. If not, I’d probably write it here.)
  • Follow with Plot Point 2. This leads up to the climax (which you’ve already written) in Act III
  • Write pinch 1. This drives the action toward the midpoint.
  • Write pinch 2. This is the aftermath of the midpoint decision.
  • Finally write the midpoint. You have all the dramatic baggage assembled. By now, if you haven’t totally figured out your character, you never will.

It seems easy, but I’m sure it will be shocking as I go through. Of course to make this work, you need to have the entire story outlined (all the major points in the three act structure), as well as all the major characters and conflicts worked out.

Will you try writing out of order? Are you prepared to take the leap into insanity?

Tim Kane

SDSU Writer’s Conference: Agentpalooza

Okay, it really needs to be agent and editorpalooza. This conference is crazy cool. If you’ve never attended, you can sign up for a speed dating session where you get ten-minutes to meet agents and editors to pitch your manuscript. The first time I did this, in 2008, I was nervous as all get out. I felt that if they said no, then I would be crushed and they didn’t like me.

Well, I’ve grown a bit as a writer. After plenty of critiques and hundreds of thrown out pages, I’m coming from a different place. My goal was still to pitch my manuscript, but I also wanted information and to feel the vibe of each agent and editor. I’ve known too many writers who got hooked up with the wrong agent.

Fortunately, all of the professionals I met today were stupendous. Here’s the breakdown (with links in case you want to check them out).

Kat Brzozowski Assistant Editor at St. Martin’s Press
She was my very first conference (as in run from the keynote to the Catalina room). She was great and gave me very specific feedback.

Michelle Wolfson from Wolfson Literary Agency
I’ve followed her on Twitter for a while now. She always offers excellent advice. I sat with her today at lunch and she broke down the simultaneous versus exclusive submission (I’ll blog about it next week).

Dawn Michelle Frederick from Red Sofa Literary
Dawn and I clicked early on our love of all things Goth and Darren Shan books. We met up later at the wine and cheese where the conversation at the table quickly disintegrated to throwbacks to the 80s and antique typewriters.

Melissa Frain Associate Editor at Tor Books
It was awesome to meet with Melissa. I was under the impression (probably with others) that Tor was only about SciFi. So wrong. They have a thriving YA section. We chatted about how some YA books can be bogged down in the dreary and depressing.

Taylor Martindale from Full Circle Literary
Taylor was impressive with the level of her critique, quoting specific pages and offering great advice at line tightening. Bonus, I also found her on Literary Rambles (my go to site for agents).

My most favorite workshop of the day had to be Genius Plotting by Louella Nelson. In the fifty minutes I was there, I was able to plot out my recent novel. Amazing workshop.

I’ll meet another agent tomorrow as well as attend more workshops.

Tim Kane

SDSU Writer’s Conference: The Secret of Writing

It has been four years since I last visited this conference. Despite being a San Diego native, I had plenty of growth as a writer to accomplish before revisiting this event. In 2008, I had written several novels, but had no support group. Immediately after my first conference, I knew that it would be a learning experience. Afterward, I joined two excellent critique groups, rewrote my novel, and then finished another. In short, I went from wannabe writer to accomplished writer.

Even though I have a book published, along with several short stories, I still haven’t hit it big with the novel. That is my goal, along with the many other attendees this weekend. The golden prize. Yet, four years ago, this was my one and only goal. Since then, I heed some great advice I read from Harlan Ellison interview.

There is only one secret, and the secret is this: Anybody can become a writer. The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer. Day after month after year after story after book. That’s the secret. And if you can do that and produce a body of work, no matter how large or small it is, that is true and can pull the plow, then you’re a writer. If you are not prepared to spend your life doing that, then, for christsake, don’t do it.

So what do I intend to take from the SDSU Writer’s Conference? Information, mostly. I intend to listen closely to the agents, editors, publishers, and writers there. There are several workshops on eBooks and self publishing, which I can see will play an important part to the future of writing and publishing. I’m also at the crucial first stages of a new novel, and that means my brain is perched on a precipice. A push in the right direction can lead to a awesome slide through 70,000 words of prose.

Here are the courses I see as the most intriguing. Obviously I can’t be several places at once. I plan to tweet on what I see and hear. I was surprised that there was no official hashtag for the conference. I created #sdsuwc to fill the void. Also, I was shocked at how few people were tweeting. Writers as a whole are attached to twitter the way most artists cling to alcohol. My only guess is that most of the attendees haven’t realized that tweeting is an effective marketing tool. (These are the workshops I feel I don’t need, but I’m sure they’re quite good).

Saturday

9:30 – 10:20

Establish A Pattern, Then Twist It by Yvonne Nelson Perry
I’m always interested in plot structure and how to twist it. Should make a good workshop.

10:30 – 11:20

Genius Plotting I by Louella Nelson
Again, you can see I’m drawn to structure.

Self Publishing–A New Gateway to Success by M. Louisa Locke
Curious about the options and taboos of the new eBook process.

1:00 – 1:50

No Sag Structure by Q Lindsey Barrett
Yes, I’m obsessed with structure.

Evoking Emotion by Angela Hunt
This is a weak spot for me, so I’d like to learn how to polish it up.

2:00 – 2:50

Fiction is Written in Scenes by Yvonne Nelson Perry
I’m a big fan of Goal, Conflict, Disaster, which breaks writing into scenes. Curious about Perry’s take.

X-Ray Your Plot—Make Sure Your Structure is Sound by Angela Hunt
Okay, maybe I picked too many of these types of workshops. I know I can’t go to all of them.

3:00 – 3:50

Genius Plotting II by Louella Nelson
In case I miss the first one.

Self Publishing–Eight Tips on Selling eBooks on Amazon by M. Louisa Locke
Could be a rehash of the previous workshop, but I’ll need to attend at least one of the self publishing sessions.

4:00 – 4:50

ePublishing, POD, and the Future of Publishing for the Writer  by Bob Mayer
This looks like it’s chock full of good information.

Sunday

10:00 – 10:50

Short Cuts to Deep Characterization by Angela Hunt
I want to focus on building deeper and more well rounded characters. Every little bit helps.

11:00 – 11:50

Beyond the eBook Uploaded — How Do You Sell It by Bob Mayer
Marketing is the key. Looking forward to this one.

1:00 – 1:50

Layered, Nuanced, Original: Crafting Characters by Q Lindsey Barrett
This sounds like it’s right up my alley.

Those are my picks. If I see you there, don’t be afraid to say hi.

Tim Kane

How to Pack

My wife is a lister. She takes her cues from Santa, making a list and checking it twice. However, she never forgets a thing. Ever.

Me, I have nothing against lists. They certainly keep me focused when walking into the grocery store. Yet when it comes to packing for a trip, they don’t work for me. A list is only as good as what I can remember to put on it. And its those few things I forget that drive me nuts and make the trip miserable.

Every year I trek off to the wild mountains of San Diego County for sixth-grade camp. I’m gone a week. It’s not really camping. There’s a heated shower and beds and a fireplace. It’s more like a hotel. It’s glamping (glamorous camping).

You’d think by know I’d have a solid list prepared, but I don’t. Instead I pack everything a few days in advance. One reason is that I know my mind takes a while to filter things. As it begins to churn over the idea of living for a week in a musty over-heated room, it begins to sprout new thoughts as to what I’d need. As the days get closer, I grab what comes to mind and pack it. I even pack all my toiletries and live out of the bag for a few days. I figure if I have to go back for something in the medicine cabinet, I ought to consider taking it.

Don’t get me wrong, I also make a few lists. Mostly things I can’t pack because I need them in the car or use them everyday. The goal is to make sure I could live out of my suitcase and not want for anything (other than a decent TV).

Tim Kane

Dagan Fish

I’m so excited to have the Fish anthology from Dagan Books coming out on February 8th. I submitted to this anthology way back in July. Seems a world ago. I opted for the flash fiction because, quite frankly, I’d never done one. It was fantastic. Having to boil down your words down to 1000. Crazy. Oh, and the awesome folks at Dagan also did a series of interviews with all the writers. Check out mine here.

Lost in Place

My wife has grown used to this by now. Every once in a while I get so involved in a project that I disappear into myself. While driving, my mind is plotting out scenes. While making dinner, I’m pricing together dialogue. And every free second, I’m delving into books or the Internet for research.

Do all writers do this? Does you need the poetic bent or does it happen to non-fiction scribblers too? It’s a bit like. Fugue state, except instead of forgetting my life and leaving home, I travel inward, totally enveloped by the story world.

Typically I emerge from this story coma with fresh insights. If I have a chance to write, I can easily wrack up thousands of words a day. (It helps if I have a deadline looming.)

Sometimes I’ll plan for this. For example, if I have difficult section to work out in a chapter, I’ll review it and then take a shower or go for a drive. These menial tasks let my mind wander. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve scribbled frantically while still wet from the shower. The worst part is that I don’t have my glasses as they steam up.

I also inhabit parking lots, scratching words onto whatever paper I can find: receipts, envelopes, those flyers they leave under windshields. Sometimes I have to set a timer or I’ll spend the next hour just writing in a parking space.

Tell me if you have any similar situations. Do you ever get lost in one place, your mind dropping off the planet?

Tim Kane