Tag Archives: writer’s block

Non-sequential writing

This last weekend I finished a rough, rough draft of Book 2, my sequel to Renaissance Calling. It took a lot longer to finish than I expected, in part because I had to learn how to write a book in a  non-sequential fashion. Between the length of time Book 2 covers (a year as opposed to two and a half months) and the need to fit fourteen backer-created characters into the story, writing the story from start to finish wouldn’t work, unless I was willing to write out a 300,000 word monster of a rough draft. So I started jumping around, writing scenes as I had them and working from both ends towards the middle.

Like a pyramid being built without finishing the foundation.

It was interesting and frustrating, with a lot of false starts and dead ends, but ultimately it got me to the end of the rough draft and into revisions. As I move on with both this book and other projects, I want to take a moment and share with you some lessons about non-sequential writing I’ve taken from the experience.

Start at both ends and work to the middle

Starting at both ends and working towards the middle was the first thing I started doing. It made sense, since I knew how the story began and ended. Working from both directions, I can approach any problem I came across from either the front or the back. Sometimes I had to solve problems by writing the solution first, and building up to it.

Keep an eye out for lessons the protagonist needs to learn

By writing the end I gained a huge advantage; I figured out what the character needs to experience to have the impact I need her to have at the climax of the story. That helped me figure out what I needed to show the reader, versus what I could tell the reader. It’s a huge benefit to non-sequential writing to know what you don’t have to write.

Write scenes independently; don’t worry about flow

By flow, I mean the attention of the reader as they go from one chapter to another. I quickly stopped paying attention to flow for my rough draft. Scenes begin and end rather abruptly. Annoying, yes, but finishing the overall story was the main goal. Working on the flow is for the revision phase.

Don’t describe a secondary character when you first write him/her:

Jumping back and forth, I had no idea when this character or that character was going to be introduced. The first few times I wrote a character I included a description, but several times I later wrote them in an earlier scene. So I stopped writing descriptions. Instead, I’m saving the description until afterwards, then I’ll add them when I know where their first appearance is.

Keep a list of ‘Bits to Add’

Instead of jumping around to fix things every time they come up, I’ve been keeping a separate document where I write down the ideas I want to return to. The point is to get the side-thoughts out of the way without interrupting the work on whichever scene I’m focusing on at the time. There will be enough time to fix everything later.


I’ve already started applying these lessons to other projects. It’s really helpful to get things moving when something is getting stuck, or simply to just get words down and counted. One project in particular covers almost a decade of time, and already I’m making huge strides in it because of these lessons.

Have any thoughts or tips of you own? Feel free to let me know.

And as always, keep on writing.

Orphan Folder

Nothing sucks more than remembering that you had a great idea, but not remembering the idea.

Several years ago, I started to combat that problem by opening an Orphan file. It’s nothing more complex than a folder where I store flashes of inspiration. A line of dialogue, a scene, the basic concept for a story, it goes in the folder. An outline that I’m slowly working out? Saved.

It’s nice to know that I have all these ideas saved, and I have raided it a few times to get ideas enough to get around Writer’s Block. I doubt I will actually get to use all of them, but I’m okay with being more creative than productive. It means I’ll never run out of things to work on.

Happy writing! 🙂

Block Breaking: Historian’s Eye

Block Bridge

My degree is in history.  I’ve always enjoyed it.  From looking at the pictures in my dad’s Civil War book as a kid to my final college paper detailing the modernization of the Japanese Military following the Meiji Restoration, I am fascinated by the story of humanity and its progress and trials.

I believe it is because of my Historical background that I enjoy books (and games) that have expanded back stories and histories, and I do the same with my own projects.  Every character has a background that I may never bring up.  Every location has a history.  It just comes naturally to me to pause and think for ten seconds, if only to create in my mind a hidden aspect of the story.

An unintended result of this is what I call the Historian’s Eye, a Block Breaking technique that I started using when I began working on novel-length projects.  It allows me to take a step back from my creative side and bring up my inner historian.

The Block:

The Block I commonly use this process with has to do with conflict between characters.  The protagonist is opposing someone (or several someones), but the opponents are too simple.  I need to create a realistic situation with realistic opponents for the character to face.

The Goal:

The goal is to create enough details that an interesting conflict can be written and resolved.

How it Works:

Imagine you a historian who is writing about the situation you are currently stuck on.  Around you are interviews with participants, official records, maps, everything a historian needs to disappear into a library for days on end.  You want to impress your reader with as much information as you can.

Step 1 – The Conflict

This step involves the conflict itself.  Look at the conflict and make a list:

  1. What is the conflict?: Perhaps it is a military battle or a struggle for an academic award.  Try to define it as something other than a part of the plot for one character.
  2. Who is participating in the conflict?: This is more specific than saying ‘soldiers’ or ‘students’.  This is a list of the people involved.  This may not get specific enough to list every individual, but you can at least get numbers and consider the key players involved.  This list does not include just the direct participants, but can includes superior or junior members of a team or third party participants (the contest judge, civilians on a battlefield, etc).
  3. How does the conflict end?: Every conflict has an end.  It could be a subtle realization that the enemy is no longer attacking or that moment when the judges declare one student the winner.  But that ending is the goal for the participants.

Step 2 – The Big Picture

As a historian, my first step in any project was to look at the big picture.  No one operates in a vacuum and no event lacks consequences.  Everything fits together somehow.  So step back and consider the tapestry.   This could be very simple or it could require numerous notes and graphs, but the point is to consider the context of the block within the story and the world at large, and who has an interest in the outcome.

Some examples:

  • Military battles have politicians and generals directing resources to or away from the battlefield.  The character may have too much help, or too little.
  • Suitors of a princess will have friends and family members spreading rumors to help and hurt.
  • Scientific programs competing for funding may attract the attention of corporate or political patrons, for good ro bad.

Step 3 – The Characters

With the Big Picture and Conflict mapped out,  look at the Characters involved.  List out a series of question and answers for each character.  Some questions I might ask are:

  • Why is the character here?
  • What is the character’s goals in this conflict? Are they different from the other characters’?
  • How has the character been prepared for this conflict?
  • Who will help the character?  Will the character ask for that help?
  • Is the character willing to cheat?

The nature of the questions will change depending on the conflict being considered.  A military conflict will involve significantly different questions than a science fair.  But as a historian, the goals and decisions of an individual are an important part of the process.  As a writer, the friction between the characters is an important part of the story.

Part of this step is to consider the conflict from the eyes of each character.   A true historian looks as the subject from all sides, and this case is no exception.  Knowing what the other people are trying to accomplish will help define the course of the conflict for the character, and what their reactions will be when the character acts in her own best interests.  Someone is going to lose, but no one wants to.

Leaving the Historian

By now you should have a fair amount of material to fleshes out the conflict.  The character’s opponent is no longer a faceless enemy, but is now a character with his own motivations, resources and goals; the victory is a consequence of choices and actions, not of plot.  Both a historian and a fiction writer would begin to describe the conflict, bringing the story to life.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences with the Historian’s Eye.

Thank you for reading!