1. cherrya

    cherrya Active Member

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    Writting chapters in unchronological to get to know characters better

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by cherrya, Oct 7, 2017.

    I mean writing chapters before, let's say, writing the first chapter that introduces a character. I feel like this is the best way to get to know him most but I hate doing that. (Mostly because of childish reasons, I like to 'discover' the story as I write it).

    Has anyone done this before? How much did it help you?

    Thank you.
     
  2. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I have two timelines interwoven. There was a reason. The story takes place in real time with characters aged 17 to 19. But the protagonist's earlier years are story, not just backstory. So I switch back and forth in time.

    But if it's just backstory or getting to know a character, I think you should leave it out.

    What writers sometimes forget is we often know our characters and story much more intimately than the reader needs to. I know what my character's life was like when she was ten. Does the reader need to know that? I wrote that chapter then cut it. My character did all kinds of interesting stuff in her childhood. I wrote those chapters then chose only one to actually use.

    If it were just so the readers could get to know my character, I would not use the earlier years' chapters. But the chapters I am using are part of the story.
     
  3. izzybot

    izzybot (unspecified) Contributor

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    I have this sprawling mess of a sf story that I'm honestly, at this point, not even sure where to start with / how to organize everything linearly anymore, and I've written bits and pieces of it from all over the timeline to get a feel for characters and emotional beats. None of it'll be rolled up into the stor(y/ies) when I start writing properly, but it's definitely helped me to flesh things out and figure out what I want to do. I don't know if I'd do it for just one, more straightforward plot - in this example there are a lot of POV characters with stories that intersect and multiple lifetimes of time spanned, but on a smaller scale and scope, I dunno. I think I'd rather just write linearly.

    That's not how it works for everyone, though. I know some people do write chapters in whatever order they feel like. I think that's mostly planners, though, not discovery writers. But hey, try it out. Why not?
     
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  4. JE Loddon

    JE Loddon Active Member

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    Write it chronologically, prepared for the fact you'll need to rewrite the beginning if your character evolves into someone else.
     
  5. RaitR_Grl

    RaitR_Grl Member

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    I have quite a few scenes I'd written when I considered working with multiple POV's and going nonlinear. BUT now that I've found my story's main theme and my MC's ultimate goal, I'm just using those other scenes for world-building and character-building. Sometimes you may have a scene in your head, even if it's just a background scene, but as you build it, you may realize it could help you to build your story world, but it may not directly relate to the main story.

    Good luck!
     
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  6. Jak of Hearts

    Jak of Hearts Active Member

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    Ive actually been told many times while obtaining my Creative Writing degrees that you should never write a story from start to finish. Most great novelists often jumped around when writing and many actually preferred to write the last few chapters first because it gave them a very distinct picture of where their character needed to be at the end (developlementally wise) so they worked back from that. When I wrote my first novel I started with the middle chapter because I could veiw it most clearly then jumped around and wrote different peices as the novel was fleshed out. There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing your novel out of chronological order and many experts in the field even recommend it. Go for it.
     
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  7. Partridge

    Partridge Senior Member

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    I think it all depends on how you work best as an individual. Coming from a journalism/non fiction background I always write in chronological order. Always.
    For two reasons:

    I do the bits I am most exited about writing, and loose interest in the rest.
    My first draft is very structured, sticking to events that needs happen in a certain order. The rest would turn into mush if I didn't.

    But I don't know how you work best. Try both methods and see which way helps you to be more productive and produce higher quality work. I really don't think there is a one size fits all solution.
     
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  8. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    This is how I write. I normally don't really get a handle on my characters until halfway into the book and that's totally fine. When you come back through you tweak the person at the beginning to reflect all the details and personality that you found was worth including in the rest of the book.

    The reason I like this approach is because it means that you don't include extraneous crap hoping that you can find a way to make it something worth knowing about later in the narrative. You figure out all the stuff that matters and then introduce it throughout the early part of the book and that really helps you be a better writer. So, say you are writing some big emotional scene in chapter 10 and you come up with something in their past that it's drawing from and it's awesome in the moment and fits perfectly for who this character is. And then when you come back through and can sprinkle hints of that big moment in chapter 2 and chapter 4 to foreshadow that it's important and retrospectively sets up a big reveal. That's awesome writing, to the reader it appears that you always were working towards this complex and coherent picture of a character, every detail that you included and seemed to just be fleshing out a backstory comes back to be a big deal and that's very satisfying.

    As for writing 'before the plot' scenes; I don't have a problem with that. But equally I don't think you need to. Perhaps if there's something that you are definitely including in the book, something that you know for certain will be a big deal to a character then sure, that's something you can benefit from actually writing out even if you don't include it. It gives you something to hark back to and gives you some clues to include in the book that connect to something concrete. But just writing scenes of them being a normal boring person before the plot? Nah, I'd skip it. I think it's more likely to give you red herrings, make you feel that you need to drop in their favorite song or whatever and that feels like something you need to include because when nothing interesting or important was happening to them that's what they talked about.

    We get to know a character through their actions under stress. And it's better to get to know them through the scenes in the book that put them under stress instead of things previously that did it.
     
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  9. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Not sure what writing "chronologically" means. I'm reminded of Julia Alvarez' novel, In the Name of Salome, in which there were two story lines, one moving forward in time and one moving backward in time. Christina Baker Kline's The Orphan Train also bounced between two story lines, in this case moving forward in time, one from 1929-1944, the other for a few months in 2011.

    But I suspect you mean writing in the order the reader will read the story, and that is what I do. Because one does not know everything about a person as soon as one meets them. It takes time and personal interaction. Same with a character. And as you write your story, new aspects of your characters will occur to you, regardless of the order in which you write. Writing chapters out of order may well require you to do extensive rewriting later on when you "catch up" to the later chapter written first. Of course, if you write in the order of the story, it is possible you will have to go back when revising and make changes in the earlier chapters to allow for (or even to foreshadow) events occurring later in the story. But I actually find this to be less of a problem.
     
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  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    If you're not working off an outline, I think writing chapters out of order could lead to a disaster. How do you know what comes in chapter 2 if you haven't written chapter 1? And I don't see how writing out of order is going to help you develop your character more. Sometimes when I'm writing I think of something and I'm like, "Oh, that's good. I should use that later on." But then I think, what am I waiting for? I found by not saving things for later in the story has made for one killer way to start off my novel, introduce characters and hopefully grab readers' attention. If you think you have to write chapter two first to get to know your character or story better, maybe the place you really should be starting your novel is with chapter 2.
     
  11. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    I generally write chronological, but I think the choice is personal... Martha Mitchell wrote the last chapter of Gone with the Wind last, then the preceding chapters in no particular order. It was, I understand, a jumbled mess when given to a publisher, but he was looking for a story about the Civil War told from the South's point of view... it was the 1920s and that story had not yet been told, and she was the only game in town. @cherrya, if by "discovering the story" you mean letting the characters tell you what happened, that is not childish, I and my wife @K McIntyre both "take dictation" from our characters, and we often have to write the story to find out what happens next. I think that adds depth and realism to a story, if you can make it work. Also, if you have a complex story, as mine was, characters can come and go in the story as they are required, fill a role, sometimes a very important role, then the story moves on without them. It helps that these characters have some major character arc or crisi of their own, during their time on stage.
     
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  12. Jak of Hearts

    Jak of Hearts Active Member

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    If you're not working off of an outline, you need to stop and write an outline first. You need to know the story you are writing before you write it.
     
  13. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Says who? I never really know a story before I write it.
     
  14. Jak of Hearts

    Jak of Hearts Active Member

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    Every English teacher I've ever had, every book on writing I've ever read, every lecture on writing I've ever viewed, every author I've ever talked to... You don't "have to have an outline" I guess just like you don't "have to have a blueprint to build a house"... but I think the general consensus in the profession (from every source I've ever known) is that an outline is vital to a well structured novel.
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2017
  15. Kenosha Kid

    Kenosha Kid Active Member

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    I sort of do this on a treatment level. It's not exactly out-of-order: I'll still start from the beginning and make progress toward the end, but iteratively. I'll skip a section by putting in some bullet points to describe what that section needs to do to get to the next section, then move on.

    On the second iteration I'll fill in those gaps a little more, probably introduce new gaps for new sections I've decided are absolutely vital, and so on and so forth.

    I did try writing backward from the end. The results were not good.
     
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  16. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    That's actually the single most common distinction between novel-writing styles:

    Where are you on the spectrum of 100% planning everything ahead versus 100% writing by the seat of your pants?

    I myself am about 85% Planner 15% Pantser, and it sounds like you're at least as much of a Planner as I am, but a lot of people are more Pantsers than Planners, and even a lot of Planners are less extreme about it than you and I are.
     
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  17. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    It sounds like you still might have a lot to learn.
     
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  18. Jak of Hearts

    Jak of Hearts Active Member

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    Don't get me wrong, I know a lot of people who don't plan their novels. But they are generally my friends who aren't Creative Writing majors like I am and also who have never finished or submitted a novel. I think (in my personal experience) people who finish and sell novels are planners, people who are pansters are much less likely to write a successful sellable novel. I think planning a novel is a developed skill that makes one a better writer, which is why I advocate that writers should do it.
     
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  19. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Have you ever heard of Lee Child? Stephen King? Margaret Atwood?
     
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  20. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Again, you might still have a lot to learn.
     
  21. Kenosha Kid

    Kenosha Kid Active Member

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    And the king of pantster writing: Jack Kerouac.

    I suspect most writers write with an outline. It's just that geniuses can hold their outlines in their heads.

    That said, given how much of a drinker he was, if King wrote by his pants that explains a lot. In particular, it explains the 700+ pages of awesome plot and character development that suddenly stops with (literally in The Stand) a deus ex machina.
     
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  22. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    You are of course entitled to that perspective. But it really isn't a right and wrong thing, it's different schools of thought that, if looked at in the right way are the same exact thing.
     
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  23. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    That's certainly a fair point, but honestly I don't think his hearts been in his work in a long time and it's just his stature that gets pretty bad books published and widely read.

    It's comforting to think that he just didn't think an idea through and had to pull something out of his ass, but there's just as many bad novels that were bad on paper too.
     
  24. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I suggest you pick up a copy of Steven James' book, Story Trumps Structure. As I have related before on this board, I heard James speak at the Writers Digest Conference in New York last year. He followed a session given by Jane Cleland, a well-established mystery writer. Being new to that genre, I was very interested in what she had to say about maintaining tension. However, her talk wound up being all about her outline method, which was set out on an EXCEL spreadsheet and actually dictated at what word count various subplots could be introduced. I sat there, suddenly finding it difficult to breathe. After a very short break, James began his session by saying, "Well, I know Jane is a well-established writer and she's had a lot of success, but I honestly can't see how anyone could possibly write that way." And I was able to breathe again. I also bought his book, which is both informative and very entertaining.

    As @Simpson17866 points out above, writers (both published and aspiring) all fall somewhere along a line, at one end of which is 100% pantsing and at the other end of which is 100% outline. I'd say that these days, I'm about 50/50. Ms. Cleland is the only published writer I've seen expound 100% outlining, and I haven't seen any successful writer plump for 100% pantsing. Nor do I. I think, to have any hope of success, you have to know before you start who your mc is and what (s)he is like. You have to know what (s)he hopes to attain. And you have to have some idea of what elements could conspire against him/her in that quest. I can't possibly imagine starting with less than those elements and hoping to arrive at a complete cogent and engaging story. Certainly, not one fit for publication. If you are going to outline, then the important thing is to remember the Picnic Table Theory: when you build a picnic table, you never tighten all the bolts until the very end, so that if you need to make an adjustment, there's enough purchase to do so. Same thing with an outline. It has to remain loose enough to accommodate the growth your characters will experience as you write them, and the initially unforeseen opportunities you will have to deepen your story. My experience in outlining has been that the tighter my initial outline, the more I threw in the dumper as the story unfolded.
     
  25. Jak of Hearts

    Jak of Hearts Active Member

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    I just want to apologize, I did not mean to start anything, nor did I know this was such a heated topic. I just know that in my years of study literally every teacher and published writer I've ever talked to has drilled into me "outline, outline, outline." I will from now on consider that that is not necessarily the only way to do it correctly.
     

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