Out of Order

Writers know that there are two kinds of writers.  People who plot.  And people who make the plot up on the seat of their pants.  I’m some kind of Frankenstein amalgam of the two; I like to say I plot by writing.  The truth of the matter is, I usually have a pretty good idea of the larger events in my book when I start writing: the black moment, the mid-book crisis, and maybe a few intervening events.  But the small stuff, the engine that drives the book from point A to point B, is usually made up on the fly.  In fact, it’s so made up on the fly that I usually make it up after I need it, and that is because I write with absolutely no semblance of order.

I’m at the frightening place in my manuscript where I have a good smattering of scenes written, but no more than a few thousand contiguous words…. anywhere.  My manuscript is like a pile of confetti, with random pieces from beginning, middle, and end all piled together.  I jump ahead to scenes I know are coming, rather than beat my head against scenes I’m not sure about, and then jump back to fill in blanks.  That means that there’s some point–erm, that would be now–when I don’t really have a work in progress so much as a series of disconnected flashes, punctuated mostly by question marks.

Filling in those question marks is actually the most fun.  For instance, last week I figured out how the hero is going to solve a problem that crops up near the end of the book.  I wrote that scene, and realized that in order for the solution to be effective, the hero was going to have to rely on the availability of, some item.  Let us call it Dingbat A.  Now, you never want to have your hero reach into his bag of tools at the crucial moment and say, “Aha!  Dingbat A!”  Not unless you want your readers to complain that Dingbat A comes out of nowhere and is a complete deus ex machina.  You cannot do this unless you are writing episodes of Inspector Gadget.  So that means that I had to have a scene earlier on where Dingbat A is introduced.

Of course, you also never want to have an earlier scene where you say, “Oh, Dingbat A.  How I love thee.  I foresee that you might be useful, in the event I am set upon by ravening were-hedgehogs.” Because then your reader will get to the were hedgehogs and say, “Oh, for crying out loud, just use Dingbat A already.”  Ideally, you want to introduce your reader to the solution to Big Problem sideways–that is, you want to make Dingbat A present, or even better, problematic, rather than showing it as a potential solution.  (A side benefit:  This makes your characters appear smarter than they are.  Nobody needs to know you thought of the solution first and then figured out how to hide it in plain sight.)

I realize that all this sounds horribly circuitous.  Welcome to writing a book with Courtney.

In any event, I had this great idea for a scene that introduced Dingbat A.  It was sexy.  It wasn’t about Dingbat A, although you can see Dingbat A in use–and that’s always a good thing, because that means it’s a scene that’s a nice piece of misdirection.  Plus, it was funny, which is always a bonus.  It made me realize why I write my books out of order.  Because, you see, the scene starts at the point when my hero and heroine have Colonel Draven tied up on the floor and covered with petticoats.

You probably don’t think there’s anything odd about that (or at least anything odder than what I have said so far) and I suppose there isn’t.  But what I really really want to know is–Who is Colonel Draven?  How have they tied him up?  And why the hell are they covering him with petticoats?

Thus arises the minutiae of plot.

5 thoughts on “Out of Order

  1. Okay, I laughed out loud at the bit about Inspector Gadget. Seriously, I am easily amused.

    I love your description of your writing method, though I have to say that if I tried to write that way…well, I don’t even want to think about the consequences. Sadly, I have an extraordinarily linear mind, which means I absolutely must write all the scenes in order from the beginning of the book to the end. Even more, I have to have the “right” opening for every scene or I can’t write it at all, even if I KNOW what has to happen later in the scene. It’s actually a rather annoying trait, but I’ve learned it’s “my way” and can’t be altered.

    That doesn’t mean I’m a hard line plotter, though. Like you, I have a fair idea of my turning points, my black moment, etc., but everything in between is up for grabs. But that’s exactly why I can’t seem to write out of order. Everything that happens in the story is predicated on what came before. If I don’t know what led up to the scene I’m writing, I have no way of knowing what history and emotions they might be reacting to or commenting on during the course of what’s happening now.

    None of which means I don’t go back and layer in stuff as I go. If I realize I need a Dingbat A as I’m writing Scene 24, I will figure out a way to go back and introduce Dingbat A earlier in the book. And I’ll do it right then and there. Because if I don’t know HOW I introduced Dingbat A, I won’t be able to pull it in Scene 24 in a way that seems natural and reasonable.

    Sound complicated? Yeah, it is. It’s also why I really don’t have identifiable “drafts” of a book. I’m constantly tweaking and modifying the whole thing as I write forward. By the time I write The End, the book is already Revision 127 or thereabouts.

    I love how different we all are in our processes, yet we get to the same place in the end–a book!

  2. You know, the amazing thing is that anyone manages to write a book. Seriously, any way you can do it that works is fine by me. 🙂 And right now, with my deadline breathing heavily down the back of my neck, pretty much ANY way I can get decent words on a page is fine by me.

    No, I am not freaking out about writing on deadline at ALL. Would I do that?

  3. Writing on deadline is a WHOLE NEW THING, as I discovered to my horror last year. It’s like…WORK.

    Which is why I’m hoping to get a good chunk of this next book (which isn’t under contract yet) written BEFORE I sell it. On the other hand, I’m moderately terrified of putting in a lot of work only to discover I CAN’T sell it. Damned if I do, and damned if I don’t, but I’ll admit, it seems more like play when I’m not writing it because I HAVE to.

    Good luck. I’m sure you’ll do just fine. (When’s it due?)

  4. “Of course, you also never want to have an earlier scene where you say, ‘Oh, Dingbat A. How I love thee. I foresee that you might be useful, in the event I am set upon by ravening were-hedgehogs.'”


    You’re funny.

    I’m a plotter. I used to be a pantser, and I then I underwent a massive transformation of character that left me organized and focused and suddenly I couldn’t write a book unless I knew how it was going to happen. Now, I grant you, I don’t plan everything and there’s a lot of, “She steals some of [her mistress’] dresses and goes to a theater to hire a maid to take care of the dressing and styling of wigs.” Now this sounds pretty explanatory, except how does a very well-known aristocrat sneak into a theater to hire a maid without anyone noticing?

    Psh. And who the heck is the maid?


    And then the “synopsis” also has bits like, “Lord B~ begins to notice some strange tendencies of Heroine’s at the same time (looking at Hero too much, the smoothness of skin that he’d always disregarded) and NO THE GOOD VISCOUNT BATHURST ACTUALLY KNOWS HER SECRET! Nice.”

    Obviously not something I can send straight to agents once (if I ever) finish the book.

  5. ‘Dingbat A’ Hahaha! This means, of course, that the sequel to that book must contain a Dingbat B for which another clever introduction to the plot will be necessary.

    Personally, I’m so relieved whenever I learn of authors who don’t plot, or use a linear method since I write scenes all over the place and then have to figure out how to connect them together after the fact. I had a huge inferiority complex about this until I read that Diana Gabaldon does something similar. *Phew* Exonerated by the marine bird Ph.D. lady.

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