Organizing your material and scenes and chapters

by Jean Kelly
(Denia Spain)

Question: I have a tendency to write scenes at random. In other words, no order at all, but as they come to me.

What I have by the time I'm half way through my manuscript is almost overwhelming in its...messiness and disorder.

The problem is - How do I decide their final order?

I'm considering asking someone from my writers' circle to read my scenes and advise on what they think might work and be most effective.

I think somebody not so 'close' to the story might find it easier.
But I don't really know.

Any advice or suggestions would be welcome.

Answer: The simplest approach is to write a brief summary of each event in the story on a separate index card. (Notice I say "event" rather than "scene." An event is a significant change, an action or decision that affects what happens next. Some scenes contain several events.)

Using the index cards, experiment with arranging the events in various ways until you find an order that makes the best sense of the story.

Most likely, you will find that the best order conforms to the basic 4-act story structure. See this article on the W-plot for information about how this works...

Also check out this article on how the 4 throughlines work in a story...

Note that story structure is recursive. A story is one big event divided into a sequence of smaller events, each of which may be divided into a smaller sequence of events. Each major event should therefore be a stepping stone in a bigger arc, whether that arc is the main plot or a character's inner growth, or the unfolding of a relationship.

Comparing your scenes with the plot structure models helps you discover if you have any plot holes -- if there are arcs with missing steps. It can also tell you if you have any scenes that are extraneous.

Best of luck.

Comments for Organizing your material and scenes and chapters

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Random scenes not organized
by: Carole

I read with great interest and amazement the person who had my exact dilemma. My novel is within kissing distance and I am excited to write the final scenes. The problem is, I have written the scenes from all over the story and now am in a fine pickle.

Is there an editor type type that will take this on and organize it?

If so, what would they be called? I know there is a "developmental editor," but not certain if they would want to tackle this monster.

I would appreciate any assistance in helping me to remedy this situation. Help!

Very sincerely,
Carole Johnson

To Carole
by: Glen

You might first try arranging the scenes chronologically and see if the story makes sense that way. Separate plotlines may need to be put in their own chronological order to make sure they hold together before being woven into the main plot. Deviations from chronological order generally should only be done if there's a good reason.

Of course, it may also depend on what genre you are writing in. Literary fiction, for example, often makes greater use of flashbacks to show how the past intrudes upon present decisions.

For instance, the present time events may be act 3 (the crisis) of the story with the first two acts told in flashback so that the reader understands why the main character makes the choice they do.

It sounds like what you want is a developmental editor, but these can be expensive. I offer a story consultant service on this site (, which is less expensive because I generally advise on outlines rather than finished manuscripts. (So the first thing I would ask you to make is a good outline.)

However, you may want to shop around or find some beta readers.

Organizing scenes
by: Carole

Thank you for the input. I think my conundrum is that I start the book after the inciting incident. I have considered writing a prologue with the incident, then start in the same place or simply revise large parts of the book and make it chronological. This is my first novel. Carole.

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