How to Write Non-Linear Stories 2 comments


Armenian Underwood typewriter from beginning of 20th century

HP Lovecraft’s two-step synopsis method is a useful approach for writing treatments for stories with non-linear narratives.

  1. Prepare a synopsis or scenario of events in the order of their absolute occurrence —not the order of their narration. Describe with enough fulness to cover all vital points and motivate all incidents planned. Details, comments, and estimates of consequences are sometimes desirable in this temporary framework.
  2. Prepare a second synopsis or scenario of events—this one in order of narration (not actual occurrence), with ample fulness and detail, and with notes as to changing perspective, stresses, and climax. Change the original synopsis to fit if such a change will increase the dramatic force or general effectiveness of the story. Interpolate or delete incidents at will—never being bound by the original conception even if the ultimate result be a tale wholly different from that first planned. Let additions and alterations be made whenever suggested by anything in the formulating process.

Excerpted from Notes on Writing Weird Fiction by HP Lovecraft

[Caveat: Lovecraft was horribly racist and his legacy is problematic. That said, his writing advice can be useful. Are we sophisticated enough that we can glean the wheat of his writing insights and discard the chaff of issues with the source? I hope so.]

If you try this approach to writing non-linear narratives, let me know how it works for you.

This article is the fourth installment in a series on writing treatments. The previous installment is Brad Wilke on Writing Treatments. Coming up next is How to Write a Treatment in 10 Steps. If you don’t want to miss an installment, sign up for our newsletter!


2 thoughts on “How to Write Non-Linear Stories

  • Mark Walker

    My stories have generally evolved in a linear fashion to date as I learn my craft, but it sounds like a great way to play around with non-linear narratives. I’ll have to try and explore that in some future writing and come up with less linear story telling when I feel brave enough to do so!

    • Shaula Evans

      It does make the idea of writing a non-linear narrative sound more feasible, doesn’t it? I want to tackle writing one, too–not urgently, but on my list of good writing challenges to take on at some point.

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