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

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11 comments on “Are You Insane Enough to Write Your Story Out of Order?

  1. nickrolynd says:

    Takes some pretty amazing skills to write in a nonlinear fashion, though I have tried it on occasion. It’s quite an interesting exercise. 🙂

  2. That is an interesting way to approach a novel. I’ll have to think about it for awhile. It might just be the way I will have to plot out my current story line. So much of the content has to coincide with the timeline of the main historical figure. Writing some scenes before others might help me connect them all and then I can fill in the gaps later.

  3. I’ve taken to writing the ending first. I mean the very ending. the place where the last thing you type is ###.

    Insane? Maybe, but I have a clear idea where I’m going. It’s worked out pretty good on a full length novel and one short story ,so far.

  4. I’ve always written in a non-linear process and out-of-order, and then connect the pieces together at a later stage 🙂 I don’t work well with plot lines and structure…

  5. And here I thought I was the only one! I write the important scenes out of order. It really helps me stay focused and organized if I get the main scenes out of the way.

  6. Great post, Tim. My natural writing process has always been to write non-linear. It’s just the way my brain works. I’ve found it impossible for me to write linearly because my mind is always jumping around when I write or brainstorm.

    In a blog post I wrote a while back, I likened my process to being a time traveler (specifically the Doctor of Doctor Who) and being able to see the entire picture (all of time) at once while going into specific areas and having smaller adventures.

    But to keep myself from being too scatterbrained with my projects, I outline EVERYTHING and keep to a set structure (but not necessarily the Three Act). Sometimes my characters go on tangents and sometimes it works. But when it doesn’t work, my outline steers me back on the right path. Because of this, my first drafts tend to end up with not much fat to trim during the revision stage.

    The non-linear process isn’t for everyone though. It requires an extremely detailed mindset and a meticulous organizational personality. There are a lot of apps/software out there that can ease the process though.

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