The Making of a Novel: The Temptation of Jumping Ahead

10/07/2010 10:16 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I was tempted today to jump ahead in my story and write a juicy scene or two that will come later in the novel. The section I was working on felt a little slow and dull. I debated whether or not it really needed to be there and decided it did: it's a bridge, a transition, and it sets up a lot of what is to come. But still, it wasn't quite as exhilarating to write as the beginning, and I was betting it wouldn't be as exhilarating to write as the parts that will come later. I ended up not jumping ahead -- which is new for me. I don't normally stick to a strictly chronological path. But I'm enjoying it this time; it feels like it's working for me.

I am reminded what novelist Ann Patchett recently said in the Wall Street Journal's new section on the art of writing and speaking:

If you are a fan of plot yourself and wish to set about the business of writing one, I would highly recommend starting at the beginning of the book, as in chapter one, page one. If this seems like simple advice, I assure you that people are loath to take it. If the murder occurs in the fourth chapter, and the murder is very vivid in your mind, you may think it would be a good idea to go ahead and start there, write the interesting scenes and then go back and fill in the rest.

But that's about as easy as putting in the subway once the apartment building is finished and the cars are driving down the street. It's not impossible, but it is infinitely easier to do the work in the order in which it should logically occur. Having started on page one, you may find that the murder can't happen the way you originally envisioned it. You learn things about the world as you write it up, and you want to avoid the pitfalls of steering the story to meet the scene