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Wednesday, 4 October 2017

The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Butterfly Approach to Writing #WriterlyWednesdays

The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Butterfly Approach to Writing

The butterfly approach to writing is when we, the author, do not write a story from the beginning to the end. Rather we jump around writing various scenes and then going back and filling in what is missing. It is like the butterfly going from flower to flower in random order until it has visited all the blooms it needs.

On a personal level, this is my favoured manner of writing. I can writer from beginning to end if I have to (you can hear the whine in my voice, right? ;)), but I much prefer to butterfly. When writing I rarely do much planning other than jotting down the odd note. Most often I have the beginning and the end written way before most of the middle.

There are however both advantages and disadvantages to the technique.


  • The butterfly approach is very much an inspiration driven methodology, so we are able to write what is in our heads right at that moment.
  • Jumping from place to place in the plot can inspire new ideas and ways forward, rather like storyboarding can, but because we're writing in detail it can spark off even more.
  • Writers can and should be able to write when they are 'not feeling it', but the butterfly approach allows much more leeway for leaving off a particular part and coming back to it later. For example it is very hard to write a good battle scene, or sex scene for that matter, when we are not in the right head space. Butterflying around allows us to come back to those scenes on the right day.
  • If our book has more than one protagonist it is possible to follow through arcs individually without worrying about jumping between characters all the time.
  • Over thinking can sometimes result in writer's block, but because this is all about inspiration, over thinking doesn't often happen, especially in the early stages.


  • Sometimes ideas change, so later scenes that have already been written have to be edited. This has to be done in-line, or at least notes made or it makes for more difficult editing once the first draft is complete.
  • Once most of the story is there it requires much more discipline to go back and fill in the scenes that have been left out. This can be a bit of a shock to our systems after so much freedom.
  • All the hard scenes (like battles and sex and bothersome character interactions) are left until last, so finishing can be difficult.
  • Some planning is needed to go in and make sure our story has everything it needs - this is especially important when 'show don't tell' come into it. It can be very tempting to skim when putting in the final, often not so exciting, scenes.
So both pansters and planners can use the butterfly approach, although planners are likely to have much more stucture to theirs. It can work for both ways of going about things. If you're the kind of writer who writes from beginning to end, have a go at butterflying once in a while; it might be fun! They do say it's good to try new things.

Are you a butterfly writer or a straight line writer? Have you tried both? Why do you like your particular approach?

Readers, I suppose the equivilant might be reading multiple books at the same time and going to whichever one you feel like at the time. Would that appeal to you or would that lose some of the joy for you?


  1. I am absolutely not a butterfly writer, when I have done it, I have regretted it and ended up completely re-writing scenes that I jumped to ahead in the timeline when I get back to them - it's just the way my brain works (strange considering we are twins), so maybe it's not my brain so much as my instincts, but then you know my pantsing planning is almost like writing the scenes anyway, so technically I should be able to do it, I just don't feel comfortable with it.

    Having said that, I do occasionally miss out a scene if I get really stuck, but I usually push myself through, because, I believe if a scene is 'less appealing' to me, then it will be less appealing to my readers in the long run, so I always want to find the best way through a scene, find its highlights, so that it builds into the rest of the story in the order that the story unfolds.

    1. It is funny how differently we set about writing longer pieces isn't it :D How did you end up with the organised mind in the family? ;)

  2. We are a bit "chaotic"... sot the "Butterfly Method" is what we used to do on larger projects..(short stories are seldom done this way)... and would seem that is the way we did our years of Research... now, a large collection of Notes... and my typing speed is about 10 words a minute... (took Typing for two semesters)...
    A very enjoyable read, good Lady Tasha...!!

    1. I'm the same a la long projects vs short stories usually, but I do still hop around sometimes. For example when writing the short story for this month's Free Fiction Friday I had the end done before the middle :D.
      I have no idea what my typing speed is - all I know is I type much faster than I can handwrite.

      So pleased you enjoyed the post, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. :)

  3. I think I wrote like that when I first got into writing, but now I don't. I like to write one scene after another and it bugs me to jump around. I just hope I don't forget the out of order scene before I get to it.

    1. I've tried beginning to end and I can do it ... but it just doesn't feel right ;) I still have those moments that you mention though, about not wanting to forget furture scenes. Do you ever write notes and then come back to the notes and wonder what on earth you were on about? ;)

  4. I normally write in a straight line - but I now find myself working on Book 3 of a series at the same time as having the revision of Book 1 underway (draft four), plus a half-written Book 2. I'm thinking that Book 2 and 3 might spark thoughts for Book 1. Is that the butterfly approach or playing the tables? ;-)

    1. I used to do that with fanfics, but not tried it will an original book series. Definitely counts as a version of the butterful approach I think :D. You'll have to let me know if it works!

    2. I used to do that with fanfics, but not tried it will an original book series. Definitely counts as a version of the butterful approach I think :D. You'll have to let me know if it works!


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