Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Writing out of sequence: a practical mid-book post

Some of you have expressed curiosity about the process of writing a book out of its chronological order, so I figured I'd put some of the nuts and bolts down here. For those of you who don't care, the short version is: book good now, cold dead fish soon. (scottjames: happy!)

At more length, then:

At some point in each book, I end up writing down an unfinished chapter list and roughly what's going on in that chapter but hasn't been written. I am generally an "incredible disappearing outline" sort of person, so I start books with a file that has something like:

"Chapter 1
A meets B; A bashes B's head with a stick
Chapter 2
B wakes up angry
Chapter 3
C feeds them apples"

And then I write merrily away, and it will look like this:

"Chapter 1
A meets B; A bashes B's head with a stick
Chapter 2
B awoke in a featureless white room. Her head ached fiercely. "All right!" she shouted in her fierce but achy way. "Who has bashed my head with a stick? Was it you, A?"
"It was only for your own good," said A. "And anyway the brain damage should be minimal."
Chapter 3
C feeds them apples"

This is all very well at first. But as of this morning I had 51K of book, with all of some chapters written and some of most chapters written and none of Chapter 28 written. And scrolling through 51K to see where the gaps go and what has to be written yet has its benefits, and sometimes it's exactly the thing to do, because I will see where I can pound more cool in with a mallet.

But it's good to have options other than scrolling through all 51K and/or only writing the bits nearest the last bit I wrote. So I went through and wrote -- longhand -- a list of unfinished chapters and one or two words about what needs to go in each, so it looks like this:
"9 -- opera
15 -- fight with king
17 -- noble assassination"
and so on. Exactly like that, in fact, up through:
"33 -- run away!
34 -- keep running!"

The bracket marking on chapter ten means that it looks like it's finished from here, but it's a bit short, so I might be able to make it fit more cool if I get out a really big mallet, and if I find some more cool lying around that looks like it might fit.

As I said, the only chapter that had no prose whatsoever this morning when I woke up was Chapter 28. Now it has a hundred words or so that will go in the middle of what goes there later, but it came to me now as I was scrolling, so I wrote it down now rather than hoping it sticks around for later in its particulars. One of the things I find interesting about this is that it's fairly clear that the exciting chapters are not all getting used up first or saved to last. I'm writing what's vivid and immediate to me at the moment, but that's sometimes exposition or quiet relationship moment, not just the big plotty things. But there's this: I seem to have written all the bits that make me sick to my stomach to write already. I suppose I generally do eat the cooked carrots first out of my pot pie, so that I'm left with crust and mushrooms at the end, and that seems to be what I've done here, too. But I didn't set out to do it; it just seemed like time.

So now I have 53K of book, plus a bright blue organizational sheet propped against my computer tower, and...all of the stuff ahead of me looks like fun to write, actually. Does that mean I have skipped the mid-book doldrums entirely? It might. I'm not celebrating that particular milestone yet. But I am cautiously optimistic.
Tags: full of theories, stupid brain tricks, what we did
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