How to make Non-linear Writing your Friend
I’m Stuck In the Middle, Help!
You know how it goes, you got a running start with a great hook but now you’ve hit that middle of the story slump. You know where you want to end up with the writing but you can’t quite figure out how to get there. So, you stop and pout. You look around for inspiration until, eventually, you give up. Wait, what? No, you don’t! You are going to make non-linear writing work for you.
You’ve been to lots of workshops, watched Ted Talks, and read article after article on how to write well, how to be a good writer. However, we don’t all fit the same mold. In writing, like every other aspect of life, we are unique. We have different processes, and we bend rules. I think a majority of writers write in a linear fashion. They crank out that first draft from beginning to end and then make their adjustments and rewrites in the next draft. Not I, and just maybe, not you either.
What is Non-Linear Writing?
Non-linear writing (not to be confused with non-linear storytelling as explained in depth here by the lovely Kristen Lamb) is my go-to writing style. I’m a scene writer and I enjoy lacing my scenes together. In simple terms what that means is even though MC’s story follows a chronological timeline from point A to point B, I do not write it that way.
I recently released a new short story, Beneath Salem, on Patreon, and I started it with a single line. It was the final thought my MC had as she died. Which of course was the end of the story. I wrote out that death scene in excruciating detail. Then I wrote out a series of chronological, though independent, memories, and I weaved them together. With some tweaks here and there, along with some details for clarity, I ended up with one of my favorite short stories.
“Amanda, this sounds confusing. Can you break down a few tips for us to clarify?”
1.) Understand the Formulas that Work
Don’t panic, this isn’t about algebra. This is where you want to consider your theme, your tropes, and plot structure. For fiction and fantasy, you might consider the hero’s journey. Julia Allen explains the hero’s journey for us step by step in this post. For even more depth into this process, Kristen Kieffer did a fantastic job breaking this down in an article she wrote last year. Consider it homework.
2.) Identifying Your Theme
You may not know what your theme is straight out the gate. I have found it to be about 50/50 for me. Half the time I know exactly what my story’s theme is. The trick is to know HOW to identify your theme and it’s as simple as this: Want=Plot and Need=Theme. Ask yourself both questions; What does my main character want? What does my main character need?
3.) Non-Linear Writing With an Outline
When you are writing a novel out of order, an outline will be your best friend. I have done this two different ways.
In scenario one I had a complete outline from which I picked and chose the scenes I wanted to write first and plugged them into my doc in the correct order.
In scenario two I started with a blank outline and a single scene. As the scenes come to me, I will plug them into my outline (just jotting down the main idea of the scene) and then when I had the semblance of a story, I would put them together.
You can easily set up an outline yourself by either typing it or handwriting it. Or, you can just grab a ready-made one and get the show on the road. When I’m not scribbling in a notebook or drawing all over my dry erase wall, I prefer the worksheets created by Annie Neugebauer.
4.) Write The End
You can see the ending perfectly and you’re dying to write it, but you’re still stuck in chapter three. Write the end. When I hit a wall in my writing, jumping ahead and seeing things unfold can help me get unstuck. Sometimes I need to see where we are going before I figure out how we got there.
Another benefit of having the end finished first means I won’t be dragging my feet through those last few chapters. I have a fear of “being done.” Once I am done I am now at risk of failing. So, I procrastinate. If I have written the ending already, I have alleviated that stressor. Of course, I still have the fear of failure, but that is a post for another day.
5.) Find Your Power Scenes
Like I said earlier, I am a scene writer. I think this is why I find short story writing so appealing. When I am looking at a big project I can visualize those “big scenes,” the ones where the tension is high. I seize them and flesh them out. The rest of the story falls into place for me once I tackle those. For me, these tend to be scenes containing tragedy and intense character exchanges. I tend to trip over love scenes but I find my momentum for them when other bricks are laid in the foundation of the story.
There are many ways to really build the emotion in individual scenes. An article on this site from last year offers three great tips to improve emotional writing.
If you still aren’t sure if non-linear writing is for you check out the five reasons why Michelle Ulle, best selling author, also prefers it. If you are looking for tools to help you with your non-linear writing project I highly recommend both StoryBoard and Scrivener.
Until next time, scribe happy and stay sassy,
Amanda Mabry is one of the founders of OWS and our Executive Marketing Director. If you haven’t already, be sure to visit her Patreon page for a dark and stormy walk through the park of her imagination. New stories are posted monthly along with playlists, polls, and more. You can read her supernatural thriller, Next Best Seller, in Tales From Our Write Side and her poetry in Ambrosia both available on Amazon.