Does An Outline Give You Freedom to Write “Out of Order?”

Do you “check off” passages scene by scene, in order, as you write? Or do you take a scene here, a scene there from your outline as you go?

Today’s post is really a question for fellow writers that non-writers might also find interesting: Do you write a book in order, scene by scene, or are there times you jump ahead and write a scene that’s coming up but that you haven’t gotten to yet in your manuscript?


Normally I write without an outline and I go scene by scene, figuring out what the characters would do next and where they want to guide me. I remember one time in particular, though, when I was writing “The Magic Council,” when I broke my pattern. I was about halfway through and I realized where things were going for the rest of the story, and the idea for the climactic scene fell on me all at once. I realized what implications the scene would have, and I after I got over being stunned, I went home from the coffee shop where I reading a seventeenth century Spanish play for oral exams and wrote what’s still one of my favorite passages. Then I filled in up to that point, and kept going past it.

I’m considering making an outline for my next novel, and I wonder how that might change my tendency to write scenes in order. If I know where things are headed, start of finish, before I start a draft, and I already know my characters well, then I suppose it’s a much simpler task to writer whichever scene I feel inspired to attack that day. After all, I’d be aware of how it fits in the big picture and I’d know what I need it to accomplish.

That’s a really intriguing thought, but I don’t know how well that strategy would work for me. I’m worried I would procrastinate on the scenes I’m less excited about or that I would find most difficult, leaving them all in a heap for the end. When all’s said and done, I imagine I’m the kind of person who would go scene by scene through my outline, even if I didn’t have to: after all, an outline should be flexible (as I’ve written about before), and if you don’t write in order from it, you might find what you’ve written doesn’t quite end up being what you need in the long run. I assume most people write “in order” that way.


Normally I write flying by the seat of my pants, as I hinted above, which pretty much forces me to take scenes in order–more or less. Editing, of course, involves moving things around, and then, as I write without knowing where things are ultimately going,  I end up adding scenes in editing to clarify something or to begin a subplot I didn’t realize until later I would need and that really works better spaced throughout the whole novel rather than being introduced halfway through.

Sometimes it gets frustrating, during a read-through, to realize something’s missing between two scenes I thought fit together while composing the draft. An outline might help to eliminate that problem, as I would be forced to think character relationships and actions through ahead of time instead of as I go, but I still think I would feel more organized and far less overwhelmed by the undertaking of writing a novel if I wrote scenes in the order they appeared. The one time I really broke my rule, I ending up having to adjust a couple of things in the scene I wrote ahead of time to account for the filler material I wrote afterward, and writing in order, from an outline, might avoid that issue.

So, what are your thoughts? Have you ever written scenes out of order? If not, do you think the idea has merit/advantages, and might you be willing to consider it, or is it just a bad idea? There’s nothing that says anyone has to organize their writing a particular way, after all. Everyone works differently and what’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another. In my case, even if I don’t want to try writing out of order too much, I think I should experiment working with a flexible outline to see if that change helps me any.


3 responses to “Does An Outline Give You Freedom to Write “Out of Order?”

  1. I generally write from start to finish but sometimes, like you said, I do jump ahead. For “Imminent Danger”, for example, I wrote the final scene when I was about 3 chapters into the book. I had to change a bunch of stuff by the time I got to the end of the story, of course, since the main characters developed in ways I hadn’t expected. But yes, sometimes I write out of order. Not often, but sometimes 🙂

  2. Everything I write I do out of order. My outlines (when I have them) are nothing more than a list of plot points, or beats, I need to hit. I’ll write those scenes first and then go back and fill in all the blanks in between. It works for me, doesn’t work for others – but, hey! Who cares? As long as you have told the story you want to tell, does it really matter how you got there?

    • I totally agree with you here…. there is NO “right way” to write. if your style works for you then it works for you, period. that’s all that matters 🙂 I do think your way of writing is super cool and rather fascinating. I’m glad you described it! I don’t think I could ever be successful writing that way, but it’s so amazing how different people go about the writing process!

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