“Do you write in chronological order?” a friend asked me recently.
Using chronological order is tricky in stories. The shortest distance between points A and B is a straight line. It certainly saves time, but it isn’t necessarily the most scenic route. Scenery in fiction is important.
Often I work backwards with some characters, like crime novels can, yet forwards with other characters. It can be a good trick so that I don’t have to show my complete hand too soon. It can pace the story for the greatest impact.
The secret when messing with a time-continuum is keeping everything in just the right place.
I use a timeline in advance of putting anything onto paper at all. I have to, because I write complete characters, so I have to know what they have already done and what else will have happened around them. This helps me to show what they know at various points in the narrative. I believe character consistency has to come from within, whereas continuity errors are easily edited out later.
I write the scene I can. If that doesn’t follow on from the last one, I write myself a linking explanation, like this: “I have to get M from here to the bathroom.” Or “D has to have a tough conversation with B here.” The scenes I can write with inspiration behind me are usually the most important ones from a plot point of view. They are the scenes that stick out in my head and the scenes I have to make blossom in the minds of the readers. They require the most care, the most re-writing and, generally, the most attention – if they are to command the most attention.
When I’m having trouble with a scene (usually because it isn’t fully realised in my mind) then I’ll work on another one and come back to the first one later. As Donna Tartt says, novels are like preparing for a dinner party; there’s always something to do. Then, when I have some bright scenes written, all I have to do is the knitting together stitches and these are much easier to create with the full force of an almost-complete story behind me.
Lastly, every story is different. I would suggest that I haven’t really learnt many techniques. The important part that I have learnt, though, is that it doesn’t matter what the story needs, I’ll figure it out. Eventually.