Writing a Non-Linear Story
I’ll be writing about the video How much description should you put in your prose? Intro to Non-Linear writing – writing advice for books and films – writing tips, from the writing advice series I’m doing on YouTube with Jonathan McKinney.
Non-Linear storytelling is when you break up the chronological order of your story, and tell different sections at different times, so you’re writing in multiple timelines. There are different ways of writing a non-linear story, so I’ll a deep dive on the different styles in a future piece, but right now I’ll do an intro and cover a few different ways or writing non-linear.
When you’re telling a non-linear story if you don’t do it carefully, you risk breaking tension that you’ve spent time building, and that your audience has spent time investing in, so you can go to a different point in time where different tension needs building.
If you’re going to write a non-linear story effectively, you have to go into it carefully. It needs to be constructed that way from the beginning, rather than just deciding to do non-linear in a “pantsing” style of writing that I wrote about previously.
Flashbacks are the most common and easily used form of non-linear. You flashback to different times in the life of your character, to learn about who your character is and what is motivating them to do certain things, and to build up the suspense.
Flash sideways offers two stories happening at the same time, parallel to one another, but not necessarily interconnected the whole time. Usually these timelines will come together in the end after almost connecting at different points during the course of the story.
When you’re telling two stories across either flashbacks or flash sideways style timelines, you should try and make sure each timeline is telling a story, rather than just being odd scenes that don’t have any relevance to the other scenes within that timeline, and that they are relevant to the present day timeline by building the mystery or developing the plot. Random scenes from the past that do nothing for your present day story will be an irritating distraction.
Other styles of non-linear are less popular, probably because they’re far trickier to write and can also be harder for an audience to follow.
Momento is a non-linear style all of it’s own where the story is told backwards. Pulp Fiction is made up of lots of little stories that all happen in the same place but not at the same time, so you see a character get shot in the middle of the film, and at the end of the film he’s walking out of a diner because that’s a different story that features the same character.
I wrote a non-linear book using the flashback style in Emerald Wren And The Coven Of Seven. I used the flashbacks to gradually reveal things to the audience about the main characters and to add layers of intrigue to the story. Developing your plot through flashbacks like this is, in my opinion, the easiest way to do non-linear without breaking the dramatic tension of your story. Writing them in this way, slowly revealing answers to your audience that they’ve had questions about, you fuel the dramatic tension rather than breaking it.
You can find more writing advice on our YouTube channel where we’ll be releasing a piece of writing advice every day to help you become a better and more confident writer. If you have any writing questions, comment below and we will try to do a video for every question we get!