Book Writing
Charlotte Rains Dixon  

Book Writing: The Tyranny of Chronology



Are you a Write in Order Writer, or an Anything, Anytime Writer?

The Write in Order Writer insists on writing scenes in strict chronology.

The Anything, Anytime Writer writes whatever part of the novel she feels like without regard to order.

All my life, I've been a Write in Order Writer.  And this is not necessarily a good thing.  Because hewing to a strict chronology as you write can become tyrannical.  (For the record, that's a great word.)

As I've mentioned a few times before, I'm working on a new novel.  The path to get here has been fraught with false starts and stories that petered out, but finally I have a main character I love and a story that has legs.

But, here's the deal: every novel that you write comes out differently.  I've had to come to grips with this.  My last novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior (the one I'm currently shopping), came all in a glorious rush.  Emma Jean was unstoppable.  It was amazing and wonderful and thrilling.  I wrote the first draft from beginning to end in a couple of months.

Now comes this novel (it doesn't have a name yet).  I've been saying to myself and anyone who would listen this: it is coming slowly.  And it has been.  I've been saying that with gratitude that it is coming at all, but I also have realized that since the mind directs everything I need to change those statements.  My new one is: my novel is coming fast.

And one of the reasons that it is going to start coming faster is because I'm turning into an Anything, Anytime Writer.  In order to make forward progress and let this novel flow the way it wants to (those being the operative words here) I've had to let go of chronology. 

As we say in my family, cary, cary.  (Translation: scary, scary.)

Just yesterday I wrote the end of Chapter Three before I finished a scene in the middle.  That may not sound like much to those of Anything, Anytime Writers, but to me, a dedicated Write in Order Writer, it was huge.

Cary, cary.  And also liberating.  I hope I can do more of it. 

So let's look at advantages and disadvantages of each.

Advantages to working in chronology.

  • You can keep track of the flow of the story.
  • It is easier to consider cause and effect.
  • Character arcs are more easily seen.
  • You won't get confused

Disadvantages to working in chronology.

  • Writing whatever scene catches your fancy is freeing as all hell.
  • By allowing yourself to write what you want, you won't get blocked.
  • You may get a deeper understanding of character.
  • The writing may flow more easily.
  • You'll get the momentum rolling.

Okay, so the Anything, Anytime Writers win, at least in the above breakdown. I'm probably missing a few points, so feel free to fill them in. 

And, do tell: what about you? What kind of writer are you?  What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages?

CREATE A SUCCESSFUL, INSPIRED WRITING LIFE: Try something different.  If you are a Write in Order Writer, try writing a scene out of chronology.  If you are a Anything, Anytime Writer, try writing a few scenes in order.  Which works best?


Photo by a2gemma.

0 thoughts on “Book Writing: The Tyranny of Chronology

  1. Zan Marie

    HA! Charlotte, it’s such a conflict if you want to do it one way, but the novel insists on coming the other one. ; ) My current WIP has an outline, but it’s starting to morph all over the place.

  2. Charlotte Dixon

    Zan Marie, your first word says it all: HA! We could use that word to describe any part of the writing process, don’t you think?

  3. Jessica Baverstock

    I worry that if I don’t write things in order, I’ll never get back to the difficult bits – as if the only way they’re going to happen is if I force myself through them with the reward of the next scene.

    However, when doing my draft during NaNo WriMo I decided to just write whatever was flowing on the day. It made life so much easier. I jumped around. And often I would find that a scene which seemed hard at one point during the month felt much easier once I’d written other parts of the story.

    Having said that, I think it greatly depends on the novel itself. A previous novel also came all in a rush with a very strong character who just took it straight out of my hands.

    So what I’ve learned is: Go with the flow. If it’s all coming in order, great! If it isn’t, don’t be afraid of skipping about. *Write what is in your head at the time.* It will always be easier than forcing something which hasn’t matured yet.

  4. Charlotte Dixon

    Jessica, I think you nailed it–really, it all depends on the novel. Go with the flow is a cliche because it is true (which is the case with most cliches). I love hearing about your experiences with your novel.

  5. J.D.

    This is not the sense you meant, but … I am the worst kind of chronology writer. At times I get too caught up in, “He walked to the door. He took the key from his pocket. He unlocked the door. He stepped into the living room.” I am too loyal to just watching the movie in my head and writing every single thing down. I have to work on remembering who the characters are and move the story with their personalities and dialogue. “Anything, anytime” might be a good antidote to my stodginess. Thanks, Charlotte.

  6. Charlotte Dixon

    Good comment, J.D., because I know exactly what you mean about that kind of chronology. Moving people around in scene is hard. And yeah, it is easy to get caught up in writing down every move because sometimes it feels weird to jump forward. Thanks for bringing up another element of chronology.

  7. Sue Mitchell

    In your list of disadvantages to the chronological approach, #1, 2, 4 and 5 are kind of all variations of the idea that the Anything, Anytime approach results in more writing. Once you’re invested in the work by writing the parts that most intrigue you, there’s more motivation to fill in the chronological gaps. Creative thinking tends to be non-linear, so it makes sense that trying to write in a linear way might run against the flow of the creative process.

  8. Charlotte Dixon

    Sue–I love the point you make (so much, I wish I’d made it myself!). When you write freely, you get enough material that makes you want to keep going. That is HUGE. You’ve got to reach the point where you love what you’re doing so much that even if there are bumps in figuring the story out, you’ll stick with it. Because you’re in love. Thank you for pointing that out.

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