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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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