Let's say that you are writing a novel whose narrative is non-linear. That means that when Chapter One refers to the present time, e.g. the 2010s, Chapter Two, instead of telling what happened right after Chapter One, refers to the past, e.g. the 1950s. And this structure goes on and on through the chapters.

My question is what to write first. Let's assume that it's about a novel with three different stories, but somehow related to one another, more or less. Chapters One, Five, and Eighteen describe the first story, the same thing happens to the other stories.

In your opinion, what is the most effective way to write a well-balanced/structured novel yet nonlinear: to write the first story in its whole, and then break it up in small chapters, or to write a section of the first story in the first chapter, and in the second (chapter) to write a section of the second story, etc.

This question may be opinion-based, but I think it will help me understand how writers work, and be influenced by them.

  • 1
    This might be a good question, but I can't tell. It is very unclear. Please revise it so it doesn't get closed.
    – dmm
    May 8, 2015 at 22:26

2 Answers 2


It doesn't really matter. You will be rewriting to close plot holes, provide foreshadowing, clean up continuity, either way. What matters is that you don't set up artificial obstacles to your writing and write whichever way gives you the most flow.

Personally, I'm an exploring writer and any kind of planning stops me dead in my track. I write my novels as the reader reads them -- in the same sequence. Try what works best for you.

  • 5
    +1. The order of writing does not necessarily need any particular relationship to the order of reading, the timeline of the book is unrelated to the timeline of the writer. May 7, 2015 at 13:30
  • That's a good way of saying this, @ChrisSunami
    – user5645
    May 7, 2015 at 16:10

Some good examples of this kind of story to study:

E. L. Konigsburg, Silent to the Bone. Hops back and forth between the present day and the events leading up to the present situation.

Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon. Jumps around between the 1990s and the 1930s-40s, multiple viewpoints.

Spider Robinson, Mindkiller. Two alternating stories told by two narrators, a few years apart. Connection not revealed until the end.

Fannie Flagg, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Jumps all over the place in multiple eras, told from many viewpoints. I had to read it twice before I could really follow it.

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