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Rearrangement

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Lakey

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I recently picked up a story I wrote last year and set to work improving it further. I had some general feedback from readers, along the lines of "the protagonist's relationship with character A is not entirely clear" and "the protagonist's motivation for wanting B is not entirely clear." For the most part, the changes I made were punch-ups, tweaking a sentence or adding a clause here or there, small changes targeted at improving these specific weaknesses.

But there was one major change, too. I don't know why, but it occurred to me that I might swap the order of a couple of scenes in the story--more or less, I reversed the order of the second and third scenes.* I think the change had a huge impact on the story. It moved the introduction of a central conflict of the story closer to the beginning. And, allowed me to set up an explicit cause-and-effect relationship between that conflict and a key action the protagonist takes, which was not at all clear before. It went a long way toward addressing that second issue identified by my readers. It was a huge deal.

I really don't know what inspired the change, and I really wish I did, because it made such a big difference and I would love to be able to systematically evaluate this kind of structural change. I've moved scenes around in my novel (as well as merged scenes), and have seen improvements as a result, but here in the short story where there aren't as many scenes to play with and each one has a more substantial impact on the whole, it was a super-dramatic effect. I've used techniques like (post hoc) outlines and index cards to try out scene rearrangements. In this case I wasn't even thinking scene-rearrangement; the idea just popped into my head and was clearly, immediately right.

So let's talk about structure. How do you think about structure? Have you had interesting experiences moving scenes around? Is it different for shorter stories versus longer ones? Is scene-rearrangement a premeditated step in your process, or something that just occurs to you from time to time?

:e2coffee:

* The actual restructuring was a little more complicated; I moved some other smaller pieces around and changed where the scene breaks occurred. But the scene-swap is the major change.
 
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Woollybear

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I believe I credit you (in my thoughts) for pointing out the cause-effect ordering of narrative. It's an idea I've taken to heart, although there are so many things to keep track of sometimes we lose a few of the pieces into the cracks.

Anyway, I wonder if your subconscious figured out that order from you.

In terms of structure, over recent months I've imposed the fifteen screenwriting beats onto a story that wasn't working. On the one hand, this feels completely artificial. On the other hand, the story seems to be more balanced now. So, it seems a good practice to sort out beats. If for no other reason, to add the tool to the kit.
 
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ChaseJxyz

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When I outlined [birds], I did the index card method. I wrote the whole thing in Word in the order I had originally organized it in. But once I finished the first draft, I realized that there would need to be some rearrangements, whether that's chapter order or splitting a chapter into 2 (or 3). I actually bought Scrivener BECAUSE its ability to move things around was so good. And I very much appreciate that for longer works!

The story is multi POV, so there's a little more wiggle room in changing the order things are presented to the reader. I think the hardest part, for me, is remembering the new order in my brain, so when I'm editing I don't think "oh I don't need to explain this here, it already was last chapter!" but I had pushed that chapter back a bit. But that's why reading a draft cover to cover is really helpful. I do it all by gut-feeling, honestly, and I know that the order I come up with in the outlining phase is probably going to have to be changed later. I do whatever feels "right"/the best.

Except for my interactive novel, as I expect the reader to backtrack. Only 1 branch would have a requirement of you doing a different branch first, but otherwise, there's a lot of freedom of the order you can do things, so there's a lot of thinking of what they know when and how that affects their decisions. I have no idea if the way I'm doing it is the best way because I don't think I can ask Kotaro Uchikoshi how he does it. It definitely is a good test of "what is the minimum the reader needs to know at this point to move forward? And how can I make sure they know it at this point in time?" Which should be applicable to regular, linear works when I reorganize things.
 

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So let's talk about structure. How do you think about structure? Have you had interesting experiences moving scenes around? Is it different for shorter stories versus longer ones? Is scene-rearrangement a premeditated step in your process, or something that just occurs to you from time to time?

:e2coffee:
I reckon structure is, overall, the same whether it's flash fiction, short stories, novellas, novels. I'd describe it very roughly as 'MC encounters problem, tries to fix it, fails. Tries again, fails. Tries again, succeeds." The Rule of Three. In flash fiction, the first two tries are generally a sentence of backstory; in a novel, there will be lots of additional stuff as the stakes escalate.

One of my earlier short stories was problematic because, indeed, I had the scenes in the wrong order. The stakes weren't escalating. Once this was pointed out to me (thank you to those people from long, long ago!) and I moved them round, the story worked much better, and I was able to sell it and get it published.
 
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Elizabeth George's book Write Away