I, like most writers, have a number of ideas about my current work in progress. I know how some chapters in the story will play out almost precisely (the ending / final chapter, for example) and how some other key chapters will also play out (in the middle of the story).

I would like to know how common it is - and/or whether or not it is recommended (ideally based on personal experiences) - for writers to write chapters in a non-sequential order and then string them together at the end.

The main problem that I can see with this is linking up the plot if something should happen in the middle that hadn't been accounted for earlier in the story. However, as I have already mentioned, I have a very good idea how the main chapters will play out - the majority of the remaining chapters are mostly "filler" chapters which help progress the story but not the plot - for example, characters travelling between locations, minor conflicts, and so on.

  • This really is a great question, and I'm glad that you asked it.
    – user5645
    Oct 13, 2016 at 9:40

7 Answers 7


Given that you think about outlining each chapter, I can encourage you that there are writing teachers and writers who hold that a writer should have absolute (rational) control over their writing and not let their urges drive their writing. Writing, for these writers, is a job that they perform in the same way a carpenter builds a kitchen: just as the carpenter has the dimenions of the kitchen and the specifications of his client to follow, the writer (of popular fiction) is writing to the taste and needs of his audience – not his own. (If he is lucky, these overlap.)

With this perspective of quasi-commissioned, rationally planned writing, it should be perfectly possible to write the different parts in any order suggested by practicality, not chronology or sequence.

I can testify that this kind of writing works, at least in non-fiction writing, where it is often the norm. It does need a final sequential rewrite, that is, when you are finished you will need to go over your whole work from beginning to end to verify that it all works in the intended reading order and polish the edges.

I have never tried this for fiction, but I am positive it can work, if you are the kind of writer who writes in a very planned and controlled fashion.

You need to try.

I am convinced that you will find that although you think that you have most of the plot planned out, enough of the narrative will change in the course of the writing, forcing you to rewrite the later parts you already wrote.

Dale Hartley Emery mentions the writer Kristine Kathrin Rusch in his answer, and in a comment gives a link to a blog post of hers, where she describes how it goes for her with writing out of order. Apparently it works, because she has been a successfully published writer for decades now, but if you read her blog post you will find that she suffers just the problems I have described: having to read and rewrite in sequence to fill in missing and cut redundant passages.

And for that it helps, as Mark Baker has pointed out in his answer, if you do not fall in love with the results of your writing so that it hurts you to delete what suffocates the story.

But, as is endlessy repeated on this site, people are different and you need to experiment and find out what works for you.

After telling you that non-sequential writing can be done, I'd like to explain to you why I don't do it (and have never before your question considered the possibility). You are not me, and what you need to do will be different. But maybe this will give you some idea of what to watch out for: getting lost; and not having a hook.

Personally, I always start with the beginning and let everything follow, usually in reading sequence, from there. There are two reasons why I work that way. One, I am a discovery writer. I usually do have some points on the map that I want to visit (and I mostly manage to get there), but I need the surprise of what I discover on my way there to keep me interested in writing. I am in the process of learning to outline more, but this only means that now I am a discovery outliner, and what was once the rewriting is now becoming the writing.

Two, the beginning of a novel is the most important part when it comes to selling it. Readers, if the cover and blurb make them open the book at all, usually look at the first page to decide whether they want to buy the book. I have bought books because of the first sentence alone. Therefore, getting the beginning right is vital for any novel. Maybe others can go back and polish the first chapter after they wrote the whole book, but personally, like the reader, I need the first chapter to set up the vision that will drive me through the writing and interested in finding the end. I think I spend 90% of my writing time on the first few paragraphs. It really is a painful process sometimes, but once I have the outset, I'm in the world and ready to explore. Without this "beginning place", how could I possibly know what the story is about and where it needs to go?

  • 3
    Yes, I agree. In fact, I think that writing each chapter as an outline would be a good alternative to writing it out in full - it will be considerably easier to tweak that way, also.
    – M.Y. David
    Oct 12, 2016 at 9:08
  • 1
    I agree. If writing out of order gets you going, do it. You will at some point have to edit and re-read in order, but to get it on paper, do whatever works. Oct 12, 2016 at 10:36
  • 2
    I will second that your idea of writing the outline out of order will have virtually no drawbacks, as it is easily changed. Do be aware that if you naturally 'embellish' slightly when you write (aka, add small details you hadn't planned), doing the actual writing out of order will not work quite so well, as you will not have the previous chapters to draw from. Oct 12, 2016 at 19:46
  • @what I was replying to the OP's comment. Sorry, should have specified. Oct 12, 2016 at 22:46
  • @ThomasMyron Agreed, I (and others alike) must be disciplined when writing outlines and smother the urge to write more, even when it is unbearable.
    – M.Y. David
    Oct 13, 2016 at 9:06

You may or may not be able to pull this off, but this is the danger you face: You may end up writing scenes that you fall in love with as scenes but which do not fit the arc of your story.

Robert McKee describes this as one of the great pitfalls of story, and of revision. The first draft of a script or a novel ends up with a few good scenes and a lot of drek. The writer then throws out the drek, keeps the good scenes, and tries again. They may write a few more good scenes, but what they end up with is a set of scenes that do not follow a coherent story arc. Because they are in love with the good individual scenes they find it very difficult to remove any of them from the story, and therefore are never able to build a coherent story arc. They end up with a collection of miscellaneous scenes and no story.

The danger of falling into this trap seems much higher if you write scenes out of order. Someone with a very disciplined vision of their story arc may be able to pull this off, but I think that no matter how much of a planner you are, you discover things in the course of the writing that change the direction of a story by some greater or lesser amount. If you have already written later scenes that you are in love with, the temptation to turn the path of the story to pass through those pre-written scenes will be very strong.

  • I wholeheartedly agree with the danger of falling in love with one's own work. Every artist needs to learn not to be attached to their pieces. You will not make progress and become better unless you care about your skills and growth instead of the individual works.
    – user5645
    Oct 13, 2016 at 9:27

While feeling rather bad for @Ctouw, who admitted to struggle with managing out-of-order writing, I have to side with both @LaurenIpsum and @what.

Yes, you have to try it for yourself, and yes it is practically possible (I have done it, and it worked for me).

I, being a poster pantser, whose whole outline is literally one sentence, usually write in a strict chronological order--thus trying to ensure a natural progress in the story and character development--but once in a while I become suddenly overwhelmed with such clear and concise (subjectively, of course) vision of an isolated scene, I just have to pen it down in order not to forget it. I do so, and then that scene drifts from chapter to chapter, being pushed farther and farther forward by the "storyline" text, until if finds its place in the narrative and snaps snugly into it.

Sometimes I have to re-write parts of those "orphan" scenes--sometimes a little, to coordinate with the events which happened since they were written, sometimes quite a bit--but they find their places in the story and stay.

So, if I were to give advise: do it (or at least try). Every word you nail to the page makes you better at your craft. Write in any order you feel like, just be aware of the fact that you might have to re-write a lot later.

Which will also make you better at your craft :-)

  • Nice answer, +1. I have to admit that while struggling to write out of order, I sometimes do the same as you - writing tiny story bits for later in separate text files, not to forget them. But it's never more than 2-3 paragraphs and it is not something I do a lot. Generally when my story reaches this point, I have to rewrite the most of it anyway.
    – user19124
    Oct 12, 2016 at 15:05

For my personnal experience, I do not recommend it at all.

Four years ago there was this story I had in mind and really, really liked and wanted to finish. Although I knew almost exactly what was going to happen from beggining to end, I struggled writing the first chapter - I don't know why, but it always turned out incredibly bad. So I got tired of always writing the same thing over and over again and get something bad in the end, because really, I loved the story and this was disapointing as hell. So I started to write random parts of the story when I felt like it. And yes, doing so I was enjoying writing and got good results; I started to have very satisfying pieces of my story.

But the thing is, whenever I tried to come back to the first chapter and write a decent version of it, I still struggled. And it still was bad. And I figured out that I could never write this chapter correctly. So I changed my plans, made something different happen and boom - most of what I have already written became irrelevant. Plus, I had to prepare in this first chapter what happened in the later chapters I had already written and had not expected to. And the more did I write - whatever part it was - the more everything became a mess and the less I could link all the parts together.

Result : I now have given up on this story and I feel bad, because I still love it but know I could hardly make anything with it now.

And I'm never writing in random order again.

For the funny metaphor : if you start by having a pregnant woman who gives birth to a child that slowly grows, in the end you get an adult human being. But if you take all the parts separately from adults and assemble them together, you get Frankenstein's monster.

This is writing : nothing happens like you expected it too. Details add themselves as the story goes. Characters do things you had not thought of. Things happen and you have to deal with it.

However though, I suggest that if you want to try it, well who am I to tell you how to write ? Do it and see for yourself - I am just reporting you my personnal experience which was negative, but everyone is different and maybe this is how you would write best.

Just be sure you won't waste your story by doing so.

I am a young amateur writer and english is not my mother language. I'm by no means a professional and don't have that much writing experience - still do I have some I can share. Do what you want with my advices ;)

  • 1
    On the other hand, I wrote 75% of a novel (in order), and then realized I was going to have to rewrite all of it because I had the wrong main character and the arcs had to arc in different directions. I think massive rewrites pretty much always happen. "The only kind of writing is rewriting." -- Hemingway
    – Azuaron
    Oct 12, 2016 at 13:46
  • Well I agree with you (and Hemingway) on this, and I never said by writing in order one would never have to massively rewrite the story. But I believe it is easier to avoid being trapped in incoherencies if you start by writing from the begining. Especially if you are, like me, a young and not-so-experimented writer.
    – user19124
    Oct 12, 2016 at 14:36
  • 1
    I think it's entirely personal. If you look at the two big camps of writers, "pantsers" (write by the seat of their pants) and "plotters" (plot everything in intricate detail before writing), I would think "pantsers" would have a serious problem while "plotters" are likely to be fine. I even know of some plotters who always write backward. It might also be related to how readily you are able to "kill your darlings", which would you allow you to modify/drop your "great scenes" to serve the new plot.
    – Azuaron
    Oct 12, 2016 at 14:57
  • 3
    @Azuaron while I agree with your assertion in general, I just like to point out that out-of-order writing works for me--a pantser--just fine. For as long as you have the main arc of the story in your head, you should be all right.
    – Lew
    Oct 12, 2016 at 15:13
  • I can't write out of order although I think I am closer to plotter than a pantser - but I indeed think your idea may be a good indicator. So I guess the OP has to figure out (if not already done) if he is more of a pantser or plotter to know if it is a good idea for him.
    – user19124
    Oct 12, 2016 at 15:18

From my personal experience:

Stop thinking about how to write--just write. If that means you write things out of order, then so be it. Write the parts that are in your head now, now. That way, you're writing instead of worrying.

More importantly, those are the parts you know about, and they'll teach you about the parts you don't know about. Even if you don't end up including everything you write, it will probably still be useful to you in figuring out what's going on. For instance, I wrote a fight between two people because that was what was in my head. I'm not going to use that scene, but writing it showed me how cruel one of the characters can be, and I'm going to use that information. Everything you write is either worldbuilding, or character development, or both--or neither, in which case it's an alarm that you don't have enough [world|character] in your mind. If so, then you need to step back and work on that, not the first chapter.

  • 2
    Yes, yes, and yes. People are so afraid of writing something that will turn out to be "wrong", so they do not write at all, but instead endlessly think about writing, and never gain the experience that will turn them into better writers.
    – user5645
    Oct 12, 2016 at 23:02

I don't know a lot of writers who write out of order. But Kristine Kathryn Rusch does, and her writing is awesome wins lots of awards in multiple genres.

You will likely need some skill at gluing the pieces together, whether by writing short transitions or by writing scenes and chapters to bridge the parts you wrote earlier.

And you may have to be comfortable tossing out stuff that doesn't fit. (Which is easier if you treat it all as practice.)

  • She does? Do you have a link to where she talks about it? I'd like to learn more about how she does that.
    – user5645
    Oct 12, 2016 at 22:58
  • 1
    She often says that she writes out of order (including a frustrated tweet three days ago twitter.com/KristineRusch/status/785213554269884417), but doesn't often describe the process. This is the most detailed description I could find: kriswrites.com/2015/12/23/… Oct 12, 2016 at 23:12
  • Thank you, @DaleHartleyEmery, I hope you don't mind that I edit that link and a reference to your answer into my answer.
    – user5645
    Oct 13, 2016 at 6:13
  • @what I don't mind. I suspect (but don't know for sure) that Kris does not consider the work of patching and deleting to be "problems." Oct 13, 2016 at 6:32

Agree completely with MissMonicaE. I would say so in a comment, but I have no reputation and so forth as this is my first post on a StackExchange site. In fact, I created an account specifically to comment on MissMonicaE's answer, but it turns out that I am forced to post an answer myself.

My personal experience: I had a story idea in my head for twenty-five years that I had started to write over a dozen times, and never got past the first chapter. Every time, I blew my creative load stressing about writing this part so I can write the next part. Every time, I got frustrated or lost interest, and walked away.

What finally worked was to write everything I knew about the story, separated by chapter breaks. Then I went back and wrote transitions--I don't like the word "filler" because there shouldn't be any; all of the words in your story should contribute to the story or character development. In some cases, I had to change things I had already written, but I suspect I would have had to do that anyway. In fact, my "final battle" ultimately became an epic failure and major setback to my characters, requiring more story and a new "final battle". The last 30% of my novel was unplanned, and I got two more major characters out of the endeavor, as well as the realization that a minor character wasn't so minor after all. To me, it's better to have to be creative to connect the parts that I know than it is to try to remember the parts that I know while I'm struggling to find a way to transition between them. I had great ideas about events and dialogue for later, when my characters were on an island facing off against a group of sirens, but they were still in the desert and I had no idea how they were even going to get to the island yet. I would have lost a good bit of the cool stuff if I hadn't jumped ahead to write it while I had it.

I have no doubt that if I had tried to write it in order, this last effort would have just been the nth time I tried to write that novel I always wanted to write. Doing it this way yielded a complete novel, and about 70% of the next one in the series. In the second one, I started by writing 12 chapters in the middle, the first chapter, then several chapters in between, a later chapter, and then some more at the beginning. I've almost got it all connected up, and it's working out fine for me.

In the end though, it's what works for you. Try it and see.

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