The Sequential Nature of a Story…

Sounds like a well-duh, but so many writers are stuck in that problem. And that makes writing so much harder to do for themselves.

What problem? Of course you write a story from the beginning to the end, don’t you?


Basically, beginning writers believe they must start a novel on word one and write to the last word. That belief creates time-wasting things like outlines and rewriting, two of the more deadly practices to creativity ever invented by an English teacher.

And if I believed I had to write from word one and not do anything but move forward until the last word, I would outline and rewrite as well. Ughh…

Of course, if I believed that I would never sell and would have quit a long, long time ago.

So having trouble with the idea of telling a story without telling it from front to back? Go watch the HGTV channel, you know, the one with shows like Flip or Flop. Or Fixer Upper.

Flip or Flop does a daily countdown. They number the days like a ticking clock, a great story technique.

The viewer sees the show in a sequential order that makes sense to the viewer, supposedly from when the cast decides to take on the house to when the house is sold.

Word one to the last word.

But that is certainly not how the activity in the purchase, design, or construction goes. In fact, if you watch closely, you can see hints that much of the decisions are made in one or two days, even though they spread them out through the show for the sake of the story.

And construction is going on in different areas at the same time. For example, they always wait until later in the show to pretend to decide what to do on the yard, but that process, just like others, is started much earlier in the timeline. They just toss it in at that point for story.

And like in a good novel, they skip all the boring parts. And they make up false stress and worry when things are going too smoothly.

The story of each house is put together like a novel, but it isn’t created from the beginning to the end. The creation process skips all over time.

After all, it is construction.

That’s What You Do In The Construction of Your Novel As Well

I call it “Coming Unstuck in the Timeline of Your Book.”

A writer is the god of the book (or the producer of the show) and can write one area, jump out of the timeline of the book, go back, write another area, fix another area, write forward more, and so on.

If you want another example of this, go get the movie Slaughterhouse Five. Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in the timeline of his own life.

That is your skill as an author, folks. You are unstuck in the timeline of your novel. You are the construction foreman. The project manager. The producer. The person who decides which part of your story to do next and how it fits with other parts.

Your only goal as the producer is to make sure the reader feels like it is a story that starts on word one and ends at the last word.  Readers need that. It’s how we were all trained to read.

But you never have to write it that way.


Another way of describing this concept is cycling. My method, which I always thought odd (until I learned that a vast number of long-term professional writers did it), is to write about 400 words.


I go back to the start of that 400 words or so, going through the words again, touching, thickening, making things clear until I get to the blank page with pretty good speed. I write another 400 words.


Go back about 400 words and repeat the process.

I tend to write about 1200 finished words an hour with that method.

When I come back to a story after being gone overnight, I jump back about a thousand words and run through it all again, putting the story back in my head, fixing and touching a little until I reach the blank page and power forward 400 or so words.

And if I am writing along and discover I need to plant something back earlier, I stop instantly, jump out of the timeline of my novel, go back and put in the new stuff, working forward from there to make sure it is consistent.

I never write sloppy. I never leave something undone. I always do the best I can do with every story.

This is trained over decades and automatic for me now. I call it all my first and only draft.  When I finish, the book is finished and the reader experiences the novel from the first word to the last word.

But I sure didn’t write it that way.

And if you really believe they put those Flip or Flop shows together by filming on the exact days they put on the screen for story timing, you have never, ever been around a construction project in the real world.

Just as most readers have never been around a writer constructing a novel.

Stop thinking like a reader, start working like a writer.