Question about novel organization

I’m pulling together the “final” draft of my old novel to send on for proofreading, and discovered, to my dismay, that there is a scene in one of my chapters (8) that actually chronologically happens in the evening *after* the events of the entire chapter after it (9, which happens over the span of the afternoon).

The wayward scene was tucked in with the rest of the chapter it’s in because they are cause and effect. But I feel like, in a book where every other scene is ordered chronologically, it needs to go where it happens in time, not where I put it–where there is that interesting contrast of (1) character A finds out something about character B and (2) we see the consequences to character B that we know the reason for and she doesn’t.

I can’t mess with the timeline of the chapters by saying the events of chapter 9 happen the day after everything in chapter 8, because we see events in chapter 7 that are the same day as 9, only earlier, and heck, even characters from 9 in chapter 8 getting ready for the events of 9.

The alternative is to move that one little scene into its own chapter and proper spot in the timeline, and renumber all my chapters to make room for it. Which kind of rankles me, given my exponential chapter count already. But that out-of-sequence scene, happening in the evening of that same one day, represents a shift of the weather and mood from earlier in the day, and it’s just weird to then cut back to earlier in the day in the very next chapter.

Any thoughts? Would an out-of-sequence scene like that bug you? Or would you even notice it?

10 thoughts on “Question about novel organization

  1. Would it seriously mess with your chapter lengths to move the scene to the end of chapter 9? That’s the sort of thing that I might or might not notice as a reader, and might or might not be bothered by, depending on how it’s handled, but it would probably bother me a lot from a writing perspective. I don’t mind writing non-linear stories, but I want them to be that way on purpose.

  2. It’s a totally different set of characters entirely. The main featured character of chapter 9 appears briefly in chapter 8 on her way to the events of chapter 9, but other than that, a whole different story thread. It wouldn’t fit in there, or at least, would seem completely tacked on for no apparent story/thematic reason.

  3. I already use that trick in a lot of places to unite two separate scenes that have a heck of a lot more to do with each other than this scene and chapter 9. Besides which it would make chapter 9 the longest!chaptah!evah! if I did.

  4. Any way you could recast it as foreshadowing? More generally, whether an out-of-sequence scene would bug me would depend on how it was done (& no, I don’t think I could say anything about what specifically would or wouldn’t make it work).

  5. I’ve been going through the entire outline trying to figure out if I can shuffle around some chapters that are really just two separate scenes shoved in together, and I am realizing that I really overestimated how often I do that. I put separate scenes in the same chapter often enough, but they are usually part of a sequence of events whose logic hangs together and must remain together.
    There isn’t a lot of wiggle room in my outline or the logic of my chapters.
    Which happily means this story is so tightly plotted you can bounce a quarter off of it (and the reason I am finding it impossible to cut down the word count), but it’s making it difficult to move that scene into its proper sequence (and mood) without giving it its own chapter.

  6. If everything else is in chronological order, the little dab will have to be as well. Otherwise you risk throwing the first reader at the publisher for a loop. Not a good thing. If you’ve played with chronology elsewhere you might get away with it.

  7. Yep, that’s the thing. It’s not a play-with-chronology type of story. It’s just a scene that’s plain out of order.

  8. I think I’ve lost all perspective on what’s strongest for my story as a whole when the mere idea of creating a separate chapter (the simplest solution) freaks me out.

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