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How to Write Out of Order and Still Create a Cohesive Story

Well, it’s finally happening. After two years of writing flash nonfiction, I’m back in the land of fiction. For me, that means starting work on the sequel to my novel-in-stories, The Goodbye-Love Generation. As I take on this new project, I will return to the world of my hometown of Kent, Ohio, in the 1970s and the characters comprising the fictional rock band The Purple Orange.

My main resource right now is Short Story Summer Camp, the current class offered by The Habit. Every week, we read two short stories from authors like Zora Neale Hurston, James Thurber, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Anton Chekov.

Then, after a Zoom discussion about the assigned stories, we were given a writing prompt to help us work toward a completed short story for the end of the class. We will even have a celebratory virtual gathering for people to read their work to each other.

This class is forcing me to do something process-wise that I don’t usually do as a writer: write a story out of order.

I know how the story starts, and I’m pretty sure how it will end, but I’ve found myself working on the story independently without a prompt. Then, I’ll read something in one of the assigned stories that will make me think about my piece differently, or the prompt will make me rethink some of what I already wrote.

As someone who likes writing chronologically, it’s changing my framework of how stories can be written, and it’s been mind-blowing. I think that in the future, it will be a game-changer for how I write stories.

I’m discovering that by piecing together your narrative in a non-linear fashion, you can create a final product that is just as engaging. So, let me share what I am learning so far about the art of writing out of order and how to maintain coherence and consistency in your story, even when you don’t write the events chronologically.

What Are the Benefits of Writing Out of Order?

Writing out of order offers several benefits for authors. Firstly, it allows for greater flexibility and creativity in storytelling. By jumping between different scenes and moments in the narrative, you can better understand your characters and how the different building blocks of your story fit together.

Additionally, writing out of order can help you overcome writer's block. If you're stuck on a particular scene or chapter, you can move on to another part of the story and return to it later. This can keep the writing process flowing and prevent frustration.

You may find that there are also parts of the story that you are more excited about writing than others. It’s fine to go for those first, then work backward to the places you’re struggling with (more on this later).

How to Create a Clear Story Structure

While writing out of order can be a creative and freeing process, it's important to still maintain a clear story structure and keep your work organized. This will ensure that your narrative remains cohesive and easy for readers to follow in final product form.

Before you start writing, take some time to outline the main plot points and key moments in your story. This will serve as a roadmap as you jump between different scenes and chapters. Then, as you write out of order, you can ensure that each scene or chapter contributes to the story arc and moves the plot forward.

When I taught college, I did an exercise with my students where they would bring a copy of their essays to class and physically cut out each paragraph. Then, they would mix them all up and put them together in different combinations.

In looking at the different versions, I asked them to consider whether organizing the paragraphs differently impacted the organization and how fluid the reading experience might be.

You can do the same thing with your fiction. Think of the scenes in your story as individual units. Then, imagine what your story would look like if you put the scenes in different places. Perhaps the dramatic tension or cohesiveness would be enhanced by structuring it differently.

Developing Strong Character Arcs

Structuring a story is important, but don’t forget about your characters! Keeping the characters’ journeys in mind as you write individual scenes is just as crucial. Start by understanding your characters' motivations, goals, and conflicts. This will help you determine how their arcs will intersect and evolve. As you write out of order, make sure each scene or chapter contributes to the development of your characters. Think about how even though you aren’t writing in chronological order, their progression, challenges, and transformations are still revealed in the final draft.

Using Plot Points as Anchors

When writing out of order, it can be helpful to use plot points and key scenes as anchors to guide your storytelling. These are the pivotal moments in your story that drive the plot forward and significantly impact your characters' arcs.

By identifying these key moments, you can strategically consider how each scene you write might contribute to their development. This will help maintain a sense of coherence and progression in your story, as each scene or chapter will be connected to these anchor points.

Additionally, these plot points and critical scenes can serve as reference points for you as the writer, helping you stay focused on your story’s overall structure and direction.

Making Sure Your Complete Draft is Cohesive

Once you have written your story out of order, it's important to go back and edit and revise for cohesion. This means ensuring that each scene flows smoothly into the next regardless of the order you wrote the story in

Look for gaps or inconsistencies in the narrative and fill them in or make necessary changes. Pay attention to the transitions between scenes and make sure they are seamless. You also may need to rearrange certain scenes or add connecting scenes to bridge any gaps between them.

Need Help with Writing Stories?

One of Inkling Creative Strategies’ most popular services is writing mentorship. In this six-week program, you will work directly with founder Kori Frazier Morgan on your writing with weekly Zoom sessions and critiques. The goal is that by the end of the program, you will have a completed story draft that you can continue to work on or share with other readers.

Having a writing coach can give you a greater knowledge of the writing process, accountability in your work, and confidence in your creative work.

Are you interested in taking this step in your writing? Schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation to talk about how a writing mentorship might be right for you.

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