Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Writing: planning scenes...

... and what to do with those scenes that you really want to write, but you know aren't going to end up in the book.

Trying to avoid this, by planning the scenes!
I'm a planner by heart. I may have written a couple of books more by the seat of my pants, but in the end, I needed to take them apart, plan them, and re-write them! So, for me, I prefer to know what my core scenes are (and therefore what the bones of my plot are) and some idea of how to get from major plot point to the next major plot point. Once all that is sorted out, I can start to write. But I also like to know that the scenes I'm writing aren't just a waste of time. Of course, some of them will shift and change (and maybe even disappear) before the final round of edits, but I'd like to think that I'm giving each scene the best chance of making the final cut, before I actually write it.

There are loads of blog posts on the essentials of a scene, but one I've found useful (and the checklist that the author has produced to go with it) is this one: https://jamigold.com/2012/06/how-to-make-the-most-of-a-scene/

There are downloads available of the checklist, and also an Excel spreadsheet for tracking scenes, here: https://jamigold.com/2012/07/blogiversary-winners-a-gift-for-all/

What I like about this is the simplicity, which gives me a better focus. In essence you need at least one of X and two of Y and if you can add in some from Z, even better!

So, a scene must include at least one of the following:
  • A plot point
  • A character's goal
  • Action to increase the tension
  • Action to advance the plot

It should also include at least two of the following:
  • Character development
  • A cause of character conflict
  • An effect of character conflict
  • How stakes are raised
  • A reinforcement of the stakes
  • Character motivation

And if possible, one or more from this list:
  • Character backstory
  • World building
  • The story's mood or tone
  • The story's theme
  • Foreshadowing

Cropped version of the checklist
I have these checklists on an index card and when I'm planning out a scene, I refer to it all the time. I usually write the lists out in my notebook and put ticks in the boxes as I'm thinking about the scene. If I'm short on ticks, I need to think about how to strengthen the scene so that more check boxes are covered (without just randomly adding in things of course!).

The Excel spreadsheet is great too, especially for when I'm looking at the first draft. I can see at a glance whether I've had a whole section in which all scenes have been plot-pushers with little character development or motivation.

But... surely I'm not alone in having what feel like amazing scenes in my head, but which would struggle to get many ticks in the boxes. Scenes where although there are fab interactions between the characters, it's not pushing the story forwards and there isn't much action. Or at least not much relating to the plot. Sometimes they are of a blazing row between two characters; sometimes it's a small domestic detail that would seem unnecessary to a scene, but which I can see so clearly, I need to describe it. Sometimes the scene is advancing the plot, but in completely the wrong direction! What to do about any of them? Because for me, once they get stuck in my head, the only way of getting them out of my head is to write them.

Well, I give in, and I write them. I have a separate section in Scrivener where I keep them - a folder called 'holding pen' where each of these 'interesting (to me) but not part of the plot' scenes can get written out in their own document. If books were like DVDs, the holding pen would be like the 'extras' features you get of the deleted scenes from the film/programme!

Some (most) of these scenes never make it out of the holding pen. Some of them have bits stolen from them and incorporated into other scenes. Some of them get changed and beefed up so that they do actually make it into the main manuscript. By using the checklist, I can clearly see if they have enough merit to escape the pen or not.

So, that's how I try and ensure that scenes are in the manuscript for a good reason, but still get the other scenes out of my head to free up my brain. What does anyone else do?



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