Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Writing Scenes Out Of Sequence

   This will be something new for me. As I've noted in previous posts, I write scenes in my head, over and over, until I'm satisfied and then put it down on paper. Now that I'm approaching the end of my story and the conjunction of several time lines, numerous key scenes are going through my head at the same time. A couple of those scenes are complete, but occur at the end of the story. I normally write each scene in sequence, so I've tried to put them off until I reach that point.
   Unfortunately, earlier scenes aren't ready yet, and I'm having trouble concentrating on them with all the other scenes already in my mind. Nothing is being put down on paper, so I'll attempt something I've never tried before, and write those ending scenes first. Hopefully, once I get them out of my head and on paper, I'll be able to concentrate on the earlier scenes.
   I'm a little leery of this approach since it will require a lot of 'copy & paste' later on to put every scene into the proper order, and it's easy for me to get confused when I'm moving files around. I know others sometimes write the ending of their story first, and then fill in the beginning, so I know it can be done. I'd like to finish this by the end of the year, and this is the only way I'll be able to do that.
   I thought I would share an example of what I talked about last month. This is a scene I wrote down, typed into the computer, and submitted to my writing partners and our critique group. This is exactly as I wrote it, and other than a few edits needed, both groups loved it. Is this as good as they say, or are they just trying to make me feel good?

   This scene involves Marcus, an overly ambitious Duke who is planning to take over the monarchy, but has become the puppet of the Scarred Mage. The evil mage has only one purpose in life, and that is the complete destruction of the Elder Races. He also has a personal grudge against Sebastion, the ogre.

After the council meeting, Duke d’Lorange spent the rest of the day half-heartedly attending to the needs of the Capitol, his mind elsewhere. By late afternoon, his work finally done, Marcus strode purposefully through the halls of the Palace on his way to the family mansion across the square. Oblivious to the nods of the guards now loyal to him, the events of this morning’s council meeting replayed over and over in his thoughts. While the results from his announcement that the Princess had been attacked were exactly what he’d planned, his thoughts kept returning to the ogre.
Damn that meddlesome Prince Mathias for countermanding his orders to the guard, and allowing that animal into the Capitol. The message to him was clear, regardless of what the ogre actually said, the Ancient One was aware of the Duke’s plans and the presence of the ogre was a warning. Why wouldn’t the old man just die and leave the world of men to those with the power and ambition to rule it?
His thoughts scattered when he opened the door and was greeted enthusiastically by his son.
“Father! Is it true?”
“Rumors are all over the city that an ogre spoke at the council meeting this morning. Did it actually speak? What did it say?”
The Duke turned away to pour himself a glass of wine which he quickly downed before pouring another. What else did the rumors say? He shook off the sudden unease and turned back to his son.
“What the ogre had to say was meaningless. He’s just an animal taught to mimic the speech of men. Forget about him.”
Rafael grabbed his favorite history book from the table where he’d been reading, and held it up like a shield. “But Father, an ogre’s honesty and loyalty are legendary. Their intelligence has never been questioned, only their ability to learn to speak properly. According to this, they were instrumental in winning the war against the Dark Lord.”
“Nonsense,” Marcus retorted and tossed back the second glass of wine. “Men made up the back-bone of that army while the animals were just in the way. Whoever wrote that book must have believed the Deluti lies.”
Recognizing the look in his son’s eyes, he decided to put an end to the argument before it even began. He didn’t have time for this. “And to prevent you from getting any ideas, I expressly forbid you talking to that ogre. Now tell your mother and sister I am not to be disturbed. Is that understood?”
Marcus sighed as his son stormed from the room, slamming the door behind him. Tempted to pour another glass of wine, he refrained, knowing that no amount of alcohol would diminish the pain he was likely to experience from what he had to do.
Fumbling with the lock on the door to his study, Marcus took a deep breath and turned to face the tapestry on the wall and what was hidden behind it. Even without the cloth covering, it would take more than a casual inspection to discover the near invisible seam outlining the door. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he stepped behind the tapestry and lightly touched the wall with his fingertips. A section of wall, barely wide enough, swung open soundlessly and then returned after he’d stepped through.
He’d learned long ago not to assume what his master knew or didn’t know, and just reported the events as he saw them. By the time he’d mustered enough courage to speak the words of calling and watched the great eye in the mirror disappear, beads of sweat once again covered his brow.
The scarred face of his master soon appeared in the mirror. Those hate filled eyes always made him feel like he had to confess something, anything. But he would not soon forget the consequences of speaking before being given permission, and used every bit of his resolve to keep his mouth firmly closed.
After an eternity, the Dark Lord’s lips twisted into a parody of a smile as his eyes froze the blood in the Duke’s veins.
“Listen very carefully, my little Duke. Plans have changed. I am aware of the attack on Princess Sofia, and her sister will pay dearly for attempting to cross me, but none of that matters to you. What matters to you is that Princess Sofia now belongs to me. If by chance she makes it to the Capitol and you discover her, do nothing except contact me. She is not to be touched. Is that understood?”
“Understood, my Lord,” Marcus answered, but worried about his own plans, asked without thinking, “What of the betrothal?”
Slammed up against the wall, every bone on the verge of shattering, the Duke stared in horror as the scarred visage of his master appeared to emerge from the mirror just inches from his own.
“Maybe I didn’t make myself clear, my pathetic would-be King. There is no more betrothal. Sofia belongs to me. Now, do you have anything more to say?”
Released from the wall, and unable to control the tremors that wracked his body, Marcus struggled to remain upright. Afraid to speak, but afraid not to, he forced a word passed the tightness of his throat.
“What did you say?”
“An ogre addressed the council this morning,” he gasped. “He claimed to have been sent by the Ancient One and issued a warning.”
“Didn’t I order you to ban all non-humans from the Capitol?”
“Yes,” the Duke rushed to explain. “I gave specific orders to the guard, but that meddlesome Prince Mathias intercepted the ogre at the gate and reversed my orders. The Prince welcomed the ogre to the Capitol and accepted full responsibility for Sebastian’s saf …”
The tiny room plunged into darkness as Marcus held his breath. What did he say? Faint blue tendrils of power surrounding the mirror were the only things visible. He soon realized he couldn’t draw a breath even if he’d wanted to, but no longer had the capacity to care.
Slowly the Duke became aware of the returning light and his body had resumed the process of breathing. His master’s face had returned to the mirror, and Marcus didn’t miss the splatters of blood caught in the hideous scars. The voice that hissed from those twisted lips was barely recognizable.
“Kill the ogre.”
“But …”
Once again, that face hovered inches from his own.
“Find a way, human. Your life depends on it.”
The Duke collapsed to his knees as the face was replaced by the eye in the mirror and the door opened on its own. He managed to crawl out of the room and onto the chair at his desk, his master’s last command consuming his thoughts. Once able to stand and fortify himself with another glass of wine, he unlocked the door and pulled the servants rope. A plan began to form as he waited for his personal servant to arrive.
“How may I serve you, my Lord?”
“Set someone to watch the ogre that arrived at the Palace today. I want to know where he sleeps, who he talks to, and every move he makes.”
  “It will be done as you say, my Lord.”


  1. You have another Insightful post, as usual.

    Other than my wife, I rarely tell anyone something for the sake of having them feel good. I'm just not that nice.

    Writing scenes out of sequence is something that hasn't occurred to me. First, I don't think of my writing as scenes. Perhaps, I should, I might do better. Anyway, I think if my story as a means to depict the flow of life. Then a chapter would be the view from one persons flow and then the next chapter another person.

    It seems to me that if a person is thinking in the terms of scenes then it would be easy to put them down and stitch them together later. I would equate that to the making of a movie where they have a particular actor for only a few days and shoot all that actor's scenes while they have him or her then arrange it later in to the movie.

    In my study of writing, that I've come across so far, you are the first that has broached the topic of writing in sequence or not. The closest I've heard happens in the editing and rewrites. Other related references I've heard about has more to do with research and note taking rather than scene creation. Sequencing makes me think in terms of screen play creation rather than prose. I suspect my thinking is flawed.

    I suppose that if I was doing a write up for a fight scene, or catching the bus, or figuring out how I might get across the river without a bridge, I might do that "off line" (I use OneNote for that) and then weave some version of it into my story. Even at that, I doubt it would out of sequence to the story.

    I understand the problem with word processing. Cut and paste is wonderful, yet I've seen a number of times where there are artifacts left, little snippets of text that was supposed to move or be deleted and was not highlighted. Tom had one of those in his hell story. Not so much to worry about as those things will be cleaned up in the rewrites.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jerry. From other writers I've talked to who use programs like Schrivener, or Ywriter, They are set up to write in scenes, and the program supposedly makes it easy to then put those scenes in order. This is especially helpful to writers who are plotters. They already have all their scenes plotted out in the sequence they want and can just fill in as they go. I've also talked to writers who put down the ending of the story first so they don't lose sight of where the story is supposed to go. Sometimes it's really easy to let the story drift way off the intended path.
      Because the ending scenes are so critical and important to me, I've spent a lot of time thinking about them and find it hard to concentrate on the current scenes. I hope that by putting them down on paper will set my mind at ease and I can go back and work on the others.
      I think Larry mentioned something at the last meeting about the importance of scenes. They are the backbone of your story and each scene must serve a purpose, or it's just wasted words.
      Anyway, we'll see how this works, or not.

  2. Interesting post. I used to be like you, write in sequence and try and remember everything in my head. Also the rethinking until it was right. After writing a couple of trial novels though, I found it more difficult, because the earlier work would intrude in the new story, and as the novels became longer they are also more difficult to recall. I'm much more a pantser than a plotter. Eventually after owning Scrivener for over a year and not touching it, I thought I'd try it out. Now wouldn't be without it. It's great for seeding stuff when you need to go back to plant a detail. It's great for writing connecting bits. That's what i'm doing now. Writing a novel by connecting scenes that I wrote as they sprang into my mind over the last ten years. Scrivener also allows me to insert material from elsewhere on a trial basis, for example material from old stories that never came to anything. You can set Scrivener out in exactly the way you want. In no way is it a must to work in a lineal way if that doesn't suit you. I used to make do with Word but in Scrvener you have the scenes/chapter titles up the left side and can shift them as required. It's a lot easier to find your way round in your manuscript.

  3. Sorry about the block format. I tried to change that but it posted before I had the chance