I'm super delighted to welcome a good friend and fantastic person to the blog today, paranormal author Bonnie Randall. Bonnie has always baffled the structure gal in me, because she writes--gasp--out of order! I've no idea how she does it, but it works for her and I've met other writers who also write out of order, who are always relived to hear they're not alone. So if you're one of those writers, here are some tips on not following along.
Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer of paranormal romance. Her debut novel, Divinity & The Python, will be released by Panverse Publishing in September. Follow Bonnie on Goodreads or Facebook.
Take it away Bonnie...
“I could never write the way you do.” I hear this. And— “How do you ever make sense of your story?” I used to feel ashamed when asked that. As a scene writer I’ve never taken a linear approach to my projects. I am middle, forward, back, and between when it comes to writing and I’ve learned to be unapologetic—because in analyzing this method I’ve come to understand why it works for me—and why it might work for you too.
1. You Stay in Love With Your StoryCrafting individual scenes for my books allows me to stay immersed in the high octane moments of the story— the scary parts, sad parts, the sexy stuff, all the high emotion, peril, and conflict. Now, without question this is a self-indulgent approach ( a little like eating dessert first) but I find that by writing first the hot sex in the middle, or the dramatic kill scene at the end, I stay energized and hooked by my own story—as opposed to being stymied by the (dreaded, awful, straight-from-The Devil) transitions that pedantically demand I walk a straight line into the next scene.
2. You Capture The MomentEvery writer hates the question "Where do you get your ideas?" because we know that inspiration lives everywhere and can strike at any time. I suggest that when it does you obey that muse, follow it, and write the scene while you’re feeling it—even if it doesn’t fit into your novel yet.
Example—in my current WIP my protagonist needs to come clean about a body he once found hanging in the forest. Well, one afternoon while I was out for a run in the trees I wasn’t even thinking about that scene and yet found myself keenly aware of the smell of the spruce trees. Attuned to the shock of branches snapping under my feet. In that instance I was my protagonist, I was living his experience.
So I bolted home and immediately wrote the body-discovering scene (which won’t occur until the Second Act of the novel, and by design I’m still in the First) because in that instance the scents were still in my nostrils, the sounds still echoing under my feet. I wrote it, in other words, because it was as authentic as it could possibly be. Now, could it have been just as vivid had I tabled it, wrote it as the plot demanded it? Perhaps. But I’ve no guarantees it would have the same power and presence and I’m no risk-taker. If it’s ‘there’ it’s going into my scribbler, sequential or not.
3. You Become Un-StuckWe’ve all been there, cruising along, writing in a straight line, thinking we know where we’re going when …uh-oh. Did someone glue my pen to the page? Stuck. The words won’t come. The next, logical step in the plot loses luster. We panic. We doubt our story. We doubt ourselves. Our momentum is trashed and we run the awful risk of giving up. Don’t.
Instead try skipping ahead. After all, you know your plot. Your story map may already even have a directive jotted down like this: “X needs to have discourse with Y about AB&C”. So…hop ahead. Write that scene. Don’t get all frantic about wondering where it will go (or, worse, believe you’re now married to it). Just write it and let the words come. You may be shocked at the elements that emerge that you can then take back to the place where you’re stuck and extract yourself. Or by the plot lines that the skipping-ahead scene may open for the story. Or by the sub-themes (or deep themes) that rise to the surface. Try it next time you’re staring at the blank page. I guarantee it will evoke something.
4. You Create ConsistencyThis sounds bass-ackwards and will certainly rock the worlds of those who criticize scene writing for precisely the opposite reason—believing it will generate inconsistencies because by hopping around you ‘forget ‘ things. Allow me to respectfully disagree and suggest that, rather than forget things, you’ll instead realize what to include right from the beginning, elements that will make your story seamless.
For example, the first scene I wrote for my paranormal thriller, Divinity & The Python, was when Cameron shows up at the old morgue for the first time, anxious for a Tarot reading. Here we have this hockey jock, who by all accounts should be a superficial, skirt-chasing meathead but aha! He’s superstitious. Knows a thing or two about New Age. Hmm….From that I was able to retreat to the beginning and plant small clues about his superstitious nature right from the start (ie: when he orders drinks in The Python he is adamant that he always gets two—whether he drinks them both or not is irrelevant, he just needs two).
So when my heroine, Shaynie, is initially shocked that he really does want a Tarot reading, that he is not, in fact, playing her, she realizes she should not be surprised at all because she knew about the quirky twos from the start. Ba-boom. Consistency. (Incidentally, the non-linear approach is, I find, extremely helpful when crafting a mystery; for if you work your way from middle to front or from back to front you will actually find it easier to drop the little clues, nuances, and nuggets you need to reflect at the start).
5. You Deepen CharactersThis one should probably be called 4(b) but …. Similar to creating consistency, writing out of sequence can allow you to deepen your character—his emotion, his goals, his drive, his personality…
Let’s pick on Cameron and his twos again because it led to another scene that coughed itself up out of order: When Shaynie, all alone, has occasion to visit Cameron’s bedroom in his spartan condo. What she sees there, in an otherwise dismal abode (no pictures, no mementos), is a mystical mural on the ceiling above his bed—a stylized number ‘22’.
Suddenly the twos that started out as a quirk in The Python, then morphed into superstition during his Tarot reading, now appeared to be some sort of deeply meaningful touchstone for him, and Shaynie, New Age-y and spiritual herself, begins to fall for this guy who is certainly more than he seems. *Sigh*
And to think it all started because he ordered two drinks in the bar. Ha! Not exactly; it all started because the first scene I wrote for him revealed him as a superstitious dude and from that I knew both his foreground and future scenes needed to build on that superstition, take it from silly to spiritual, and along the way give the reader a deep glimpse into how and why Cameron is who he is.
6. You Write Out of Sequence Because You Know That Transitions Are From The DevilI know, I know—I already said The Devil part. But Lordy, it bears repeating ’cause if you are anything like me and loathe the pedantic nature of crafting transitions then please pull yourself out of tedium by writing a scene you are jazzed about—and guess what might happen? That transition you’ve been dreading, doing laundry instead of, bathing the cat instead of … you might just find yourself jazzed to write it, too. Why? Because it’s the link that will connect your story to that hot scene you just wrote— because that scene really is that cool.
So there you have it! See? Writing out of sequence isn’t crazy. (Um…did I mention that I wrote the first draft of this article with Crayola?) Seriously, it can enliven your story and open doors you didn’t even know were stuck shut. Bail you out of boring, create opportunities to go deep with your character(s) or remain true to the consistency of your plot. Stay organized, though: color-code your scenes (use index cards, highlighters, post-its…), have a general acquaintance with your plot (the Three Act Structure, Mayer’s Conflict Box, or the like are all excellent methods by which to story-map) so you know, roughly, where your scenes will go and, most of all, stay in the moment and have fun with your prose!
About Divinity and the Python
The Python is the hottest nightclub in freezing Edmonton: all skin, no substance, and definitely no spirituality. Bartender Shaynie Gavin knows better—all things have a soul, and on an evening she’s come to call Hellnight, The Python left a dark stain on hers. Now Shaynie’s moving into another place that’s more than what it seems—Divinity, the old morgue she’s refurbished into a Tarot lounge. With all her passion focused on launching the venture, Shaynie is rattled when Divinity appears to orchestrate a connection between her and superstitious hockey star Cameron Weste.
Shaynie’s reaction is nothing compared to The Python’s. Vandalism, violence, an omniscient stalker—the parallels to her lost, bloody Hellnight in the club are unmistakable. But equally undeniable is the protection emanating from her old morgue.
All things have a soul, and Divinity’s seems aligned with Shaynie’s own—but whose is twinned with The Python? As Shaynie starts hunting her stalker, it’s clear only one soul will survive.