Scrivener And The Zen Of The Nonlinear

When it comes to stories, no two writers have the same favorite approach. But one of the things we all like to do is to hook the reader as quickly as possible. Some like to grab the reader with the first paragraph, even — when remotely possible — the very first sentence. I’m that kind of writer. If you are, too, here’s something you probably use fairly often:

In medias res.

Latin. “In the midst of things.”

Mystery writers love it. Horror writers love it. Quentin Tarantino loves it. Based on the fact that you know who he is without having to Google his name, a lot of viewers have, too. We come in while the action is rolling along, and get swept up with the momentum. That’s the idea.

But at some point, we have to get at least some of our curiosity satisfied: Why was that action happening? That car chased you opened with was great, but why were the chase-er and the chase-ee important? What was it about?

You could dump expository dialogue on your characters to answer those questions, but let’s say, just for fun, that that’s a bad idea. Instead, let’s show the viewer (or reader) why that chase mattered, and what the bigger picture is.

Flashback time!

But how do we handle that? Dream sequence? Unless you want to convey a psychologically unstable world or character, let’s not. Well, unless you do. And then… yeah… do.

However you choose to handle flashbacks or flash-forwards, writing them can be something of a pain if you’re planning the story in its narrative order. That opening image can lack details that will make it consistent with the backstory which occurred before but is shown later.


Maybe you don’t intend to let the reader actually witness the events that led up to your opening. Maybe you’re going to be a tough taskmaster and force the readers to sink or swim. That’s up to you.

But whatever choice you make, when you begin a tale in medias res, it will be of immense benefit, to yourself if no one else, for you to actually write “the story before the story.”

This is why Scrivener is your best friend. And why I’m about to become your new hero.

Because Scrivener’s outliner and corkboard features make it not just feasible but ridiculously easy for you to create the scenes that occur before the opening of your story. Write them out, and I mean in the very same style as the story proper.

Use Scrivener’s document notes pane for each scene to note the special little sensory details you described in the story that came before the story. Have your characters actually start the argument the reader opens the book to the really heated and hilariously snarky part of. Show the characters running from the drug dealers on the way to the car before the beginning of that car chase you open on.

And then move on to your opening image as if it was not merely the beginning but a natural continuation of the previous scene.

And you know what Scrivener makes it possible to do then? You have a choice; do you want to simply excise that material? Or do you want to take those scenes, each one a separate Scrivener documents, and move them to some point further ahead, the point where the car chase is explained?

The choice is yours. Scrivener is the app that will make it easy to execute that choice.

You can get Scrivener from here.

Until next time, please remember to support this blog; do good work, and be good to yourselves and each other.

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