Writing: Planning a Scene

Tea in hand, Google Docs pulled up, Harry Potter soundtracks blaring through my headphones, and a desire to write (and hopefully motivation and inspiration to go with it). This is a common picture of how I start writing on whatever project on any given day. But lately, I’ve found myself sitting down and just staring…and staring…and staring…and then looking at the time and realising that I now have to go to work and have wasted my writing time for the day. I have the desire to write. But my motivation and inspiration have been lacking, especially when it comes to my novel. Which has forced me to take my usual “pantser” self and set it on the shelf, replacing it with a planner.

I’m pretty awful at planning and outlining most of the time, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. But frequently, I find it to be necessary to get any writing done.

I find planning scenes to be even more difficult than outlining my novel most of the time, which is the exact opposite of what I would expect. However, when writing a scene, you need to be certain that everything that is happening (or not happening) is exactly as it should be so that it can properly support the rest of the chapter, the book, the themes, and most importantly the character development.

I’ve found it easiest to work on particular scenes that fit my mood or my fancy on a given day, instead of trying to write through my book in order (this will most certainly make it rather difficult to edit later on, but hey! You gotta do what you gotta do!). But even when I work on a particular scene, my brain can be going a million different directions and make it very difficult to actually get any words onto the page.

So I thought I’d share my tips for plotting a scene.

 

  • Figure out what theme is important to the scene.

 

Sometimes this is your main theme for the novel; other times, it might be one of the minor themes. Whatever the case, think about what actions and dialogue will help present it to your characters/readers. What are your characters’ opinions about the theme? Do they support what you are trying to portray? Are they against it? Have they ever thought about it before?

For example, if you have a theme regarding the importance of family, you may have one character who’s experienced unconditional love and support from their family. This character may be open to whatever is happening and the lesson that can be learnt from it. However, if you have a character who was abused, neglected, orphaned, or abandoned, they may not be able or willing to comprehend the theme. This character may even try to influence the other characters to agree with them.

 

  • Pay attention to which characters are there and how they interact with each other.

 

Going beyond how the characters may react to the theme and what’s happening around them, look act their personal interactions with each other. Do the characters in this scene get along? Are they soul mates? Best friends? Mortal enemies? Complete strangers? Is one of them hiding a big secret from another?

 

  • Write down the first thing that happens.

 

Do you know the first thing that happens in this scene? Write it down! Get it out on paper as quickly as you can. I like to use telescopic text when writing like this. In other words, I write down the simplest sentences about what’s happening, and then I go back and add detail, and I’ll continue going back with more detail until I’m satisfied. But getting the first bit of the scene out can help you figure out what comes next.

 

  • Write out the end goal for that particular scene/chapter.

 

Now that you know how the scene begins, where is it going? Where does its action end? Knowing the beginning and the ending will help you clarify what can happen or needs to happen in the middle.

 

  • Ask what can go horribly wrong. OR Ask what can go wonderfully right.

 

This is a pretty common piece of advice for writers, or at least the first half is. Sending the characters and plot into chaos is a great way to add drama (and interest) to your story; however, sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming. You don’t want only bad things to happen to your characters…do you? Finding out what can go wrong can you give great ideas, but so can asking what can go well. I personally don’t like deus ex machina for helping things go well for characters; I prefer the characters’ past actions or present decisions to lead to good things happening. Also, finding ways to show the joy and love that characters can experience can help your readers fall more in love with them and, as a result, the story.
I hope these little bits of advice are helpful!
What are some of your tips for plotting scenes? Let me know in the comments below!

Story: My New Return

It’s time for a story. Most of the ideas I originally had for this turned into things that will be longer stories instead. Thankfully Azelyn came to the rescue with a writing exercise.
The prompt: Tell a dreamlike story/memory using only 50 words.

I ended up basing this story off the prompt and my memory of a piece of artwork entitled “Isolated Migration” by Justice Lowman (image below used with permission).

My New Return
Water seeps into my shoes as I take step upon step into the waves towards the shack in the middle of the sea. Glowing blue, green, and orange, the jellyfish float towards the stars, guiding my feet, my soul. Then, in the window, she appears, ready and waiting for me.

isolated-migration-by-justice-lowman

Want to use the prompt yourself? Go ahead!
I’d love to see what stories you end up with!

Writing: Creating an Outline

There are countless ways to approach writing an outline for your novel. Sometimes it takes multiple forms to get just one outline put together.

I recently finished my first “complete” outline for a book that I’ve had in my head for three years. I did so by combining three of the outlining styles I’ve heard most about over the last few years, and I thought it might be a helpful technique to others who are trying to start writing a book but have no idea where to begin.

  1. Write down the overarching theme and/or goal for the book.

Aside from three particular scenes in my book, I’ve not really known much of what would happen, and I didn’t know how to piece those scenes together. But I have always had an idea of what I wanted the recurring theme of my book to be. Sometimes that is the perfect spot to start. Having an idea of what you want your work to say, how you want it to make people feel, and why you want to create it is, in my opinion, far better than having a thoroughly planned plot without knowing the meaning of it all. It can be something complex, like wanting to help young women feel empowered and important or revealing some of the “hidden” realities in our societies, or it can be as simple as wanting to make others laugh or getting rid of an emotional burden that you’ve been carrying for years—not that it’s simple to do so. But having a goal for how the novel should impact the world (whether it’s your own life, a community, or the globe) could help the plot come together and give you ideas for specific scenes.

  1. List smaller themes and goals for sections of the book that support the main goal.

This might seem a bit much to some, but I truly enjoy when I can find specific themes running throughout entire books. I take even more satisfaction when those are focused on in more detail in certain chapters. Doing this can give you a better idea of how to organise your scenes, introduce your characters, and even incorporate foreshadowing into your book.

  1. Separate the hero’s arc into the sections.

Here, I took what I knew would happen to my main character throughout the book and the monomyth, or Hero’s Journey Arch, and compared them to the goals I had set for each section of my book. As of right now, I have four sections with sixteen chapters divided among them. I love the idea of having sixteen chapters for some reason, but with the scenes I have planned and a few ideas I have, I may need to add more chapters to the book or find incredibly clever ways to transition between some of the scenes. But I’ve been doing my best to make sure that each chapter and scene will support the theme of that section. That isn’t to say that some of the chapters or themes won’t overlap into other sections. I am actually hoping that those overlaps come smoothly in my work. But taking the general patterns of storytelling and applying them to your outline can help you arrange your scenes and fill in the blanks. These basic patterns can be referred to as the Hero’s Journey Arch, which consists of twelve stages that were identified by Joseph Campbell.

  1. Ordinary World, in which the main character, world, and everyday life are presented to the audience.
  2. Call to Adventure, in which something upsets the balance of everyday life in the character’s world and presents a challenge. The character is then given a choice between two (or more) conflicting calls to react to the challenge.
  3. Refusal of the Call, where the character decides against the call because of insecurities, risks, abilities, or some other reason.
  4. Meeting the Mentor, when the main character interacts with someone who provides wisdom, insight, training, tools, and/or encouragement.
  5. Crossing the Threshold, when the character takes up the call and decides to face the challenge.
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies, in which the main character encounters trials, attempts to discover who can and cannot be trusted, and tries to prepare for what will come later.
  7. Approaching the Inmost Cave, where the main character gets ready for the central crisis or challenge that will be faced, in which the character faces their biggest fear.
  8. The Ordeal, where the character enters the central crisis, which has two outcomes on opposite sides of the spectrum (life or death, love or breakup, success or failure).
  9. Reward, in which the character achieves the main goal after surviving the central crisis.
  10. Road Back, when the character decides to complete the journey, returning to the ordinary world even if it’s difficult to do so and encountering trials along the way.
  11. Resurrection, when the character encounters the greatest crisis, which transforms or redeems them, and they gain something from it.
  12. Return with Elixir, in which the character takes what has been gained during the greatest crisis and shares it with others, particularly those in the ordinary world.

As I went through and aligned the themes and the monomyth through my outline, I added more and more detail of the story. The plot quickly grew from incredibly vague and disordered to feasible and understandable. As a result, it’s also a lot less intimidating to work on writing it.

  1. If you have chapter titles or scene ideas, organise them.

I already had sixteen chapter titles chosen and a few scene ideas, but I didn’t know where anything happened throughout the book. Thankfully, setting the themes, goals, and broad plot outline helped me to figure out where each scene and chapter would fit best. For my current work in progress, each of the sections have four chapters. For another book I’ve started planning, I have 23 chapters split into 7 sections.

Each book and its organisation will look completely different, and maybe dividing your book into sections (whether noticeable to the reader or not) isn’t something that you’re interested in or that will really work with your novel. But I’ve found it incredibly helpful in plotting and writing.

Good luck on all your outlining and novel writing adventures!!

What are some of your tips for outlining you stories? Let me know down in the comments!