There are several debates when it comes to drafting a novel. The most well-known debate is usually between plotters and pantsers. Plotters being those who outline and plan each chapter in advance and pantsers being those who wing it and see what comes out. Turns out most writers I know do a bit of both.
A lesser debated issue is that between linear and non-linear writing. Linear writing is when a writer starts at the beginning and plows through to the end without going back to change or fix things. Non-linear writing is when the story is written out-of-order. The writer might have a stroke of inspiration and envision an awesome climax and write that first and then they go through and write the events that lead up to it. Non-linear writing also includes writers who start at the beginning and then loop back to fix or adjust earlier scenes as the writing continues.
There are pros and cons to each style of writing.
Linear writing tends to be the more standard approach to novel-writing. It tends to be more organized than non-linear writing and will create a finished product in less time. Because it forces the writer to figure out all the ins and outs of their story as they go, there tends to be less massive revision and changes. However, since the writer needs to work where they are and not skip ahead, when inspiration strikes for a different scene they tend to wait until they get there to write it.
Non-linear writing is a slave to inspiration. This is when the writer gets a brilliant idea for a scene and writes it and then has to to build a story around it. Writing when fueled with inspiration lends itself to awesome prose and satisfying creative experiences. However, a non-linear writer will shy away from scenes that they don’t feel the inspiration to write and stick to the ones they are passionate about. When it comes time to assemble these scenes into a story there tends to be a disconnect between them and it takes lots of hard work to bring the story to completion.
I’ve been both. Back in the day when I started my story and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t know where I was going with it and so I wrote it in a non-linear style. It was fun and self-indulgent and I felt like I was putting some terrific words to paper. It wasn’t until almost a year into the process that I realized that I had many major problems that had to be fixed before the scenes could be strung together. It’s taken ages to correct the problems I caused for myself.
I learned my lesson and now work strictly from beginning to end. This way it’s clear when a draft is completed. When I find a problem I flag it for the next drafting pass. I know when a story is getting close to being finished when all the problems have been addressed.
What experiences have you had with linear vs non-linear writing?