Let’s face it: it’s not easy to write linearly.
Even for the most experienced of planners, writing scene by scene, chapter by chapter, in a linear fashion, can still be difficult, especially when you get a great idea for a future plot point, or find yourself feeling inspired to write a chapter you planned for way further into the writing process.
Many writers find it easy and helpful to stick to a linear writing process. Many others write out of order, focusing in on what inspires them in that moment. Further still, some writers do both: writing as linearly as possible, while also giving in to moments of inspiration and jumping around in the process.
But, after you are done the draft, you may find yourself lost in the seemingly fragmented chapters, scenes, and paragraphs. Don’t panic – there are many ways to ensure your plot pieces together perfectly in the end!
Here are our top tips on getting your plot in order:
Start from the end – if you’ve recently wrapped up your manuscript, work your way backward. Start from the chapter that you are certain is the ending, and follow along from there. For most writers, the beginning and the ending will be the most solidly linear, and the middle is where things get muddled. Read all about the muddy middle here!
Bookending your manuscript – having a solid understanding of and order for your beginning and end – can make organizing the middle a lot easier. When you are certain that these 2-5 chapters belong at the beginning, and these 2-5 belong at the end, you’ve just eliminated anywhere from 4 to 10 chapters from the organization process, for example! If you struggle with the middle, try this out and see how far you can get in settling into that messy section.
Follow one plot line at a time – if you have multiple plot lines in your novel – for example, parallel stories of a romance between two main characters set against the backdrop of a struggling business and the other characters involved – it can help to follow one plot line at a time when piecing your novel together. Make sure you didn’t accidentally write in a first kiss before a pivotal scene of the heroes’ realizing their attraction for each other!
This will also help you keep the sub-plots involving minor characters in order, especially if you are writing a very involved narrative, such as one in the fantasy or sci-fi genre. Side characters have a way of getting lost or forgotten when one doesn’t write linearly. Go through your document and highlight their plot line as you read along, using different colours for different characters. You can then note where they are at in their story, where they should be, and where they are missing. The same can be done for the main characters, of course, but often, their story is much easier to follow as it is in the forefront.
If you a big visual learner, consider crafting a graph that charts the plot lines of different characters. Add notes to each plot point and mark where it occurs in your novel. Use a multitude of colours, or create entirely different graphs based on character or plot point. These types of graphs can be fun to make as well as extremely helpful to you and any editor you might work with in the future.
Focus on what you wrote first – usually, the earliest chapters or sections of your story will need the heaviest revision. No one writes a perfect first chapter! But within these initial chapters, you will often find key points and important details that are carried throughout the rest of the work. Don’t discard them completely. Instead, use them as an anchor point as you figure out the order of the rest of your work.
Focusing on what you wrote first can also help you determine what you may have missed in these key first chapters but added later, such as important plot points or character introductions. Make sure whatever is present in these opening chapters remains present in the rest of your writing.
Separate chapters into different documents – this can really help you visualize your story better and assist in editing. If you want to take it to the next level, consider printing out your manuscript. Having stacks of pages in front of you can actually be a huge help when it comes to organizing. But, if physical paper and spreading sections of your novel all over your living room are not for you, organizing each chapter into its own document can help you visualize where it should go. Name them more than Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. – put a key plot point after the number, such as “MC (main character) starts new job” and “love interests kiss for the first time”, etc., to keep things straight. You can number them later! For now, drag and drop in a folder dedicated to your novel until they’re in an order that makes sense
Consolidate with help from an editor – whenever possible, get an editor to help you thread it all together. If you’ve tried all the above and you still feel as if something is missing or not quite right, consider hiring an editor if you don’t have one. An editor’s services are invaluable – not every writer can edit as well as they can write! An editorial eye can bring vast improvements to a story and save you a lot of stress.
For more advice on editing, check out these blog posts and podcast episodes:
- When do I know my manuscript is ready to be edited? How do I work with an editor? What does my editor expect from me? And more questions, answered
- KWL – 155 – How to Find the Right Editor for You with Stefanie London
- 5 Ways to Make Your Editor Think You are Awesome
- An Editor Is Your Novel’s Best Friend
- KWL – 234 – Editing 101 with Kristina Stanley, JoEllen Nordstrom, and Lisa Lepki
Happy plotting from us at the Kobo Writing Life!