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!

Advertisements

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!

Anxiety and Outlining

When it comes to my blog posts, I plan really far in advance. I know it isn’t exactly an outline, but it works as one. Then there are my short stories and my novel. For these, I’m usually a “pantser,” writing everything that comes to mind as it arrives. But I’ve learned over the last year that I can’t write a novel like that. Short stories? Maybe. But a novel? That ain’t happening.

So I’ve spent hours continually going through the vague idea in my head, attempting to create a tentative outline, and it stresses me out to no end. But overall the idea of finishing it and actually working on the book has been inspiring. At one point, amidst my excitement and motivation, I messaged Azelyn to tell her how determined I am to finish the first draft of my novel this year and that I was actually trying to create an outline, which obviously surprised her. What she didn’t expect was a stream of messages over the next few days (or weeks, really) complaining about the process of outlining a book that I’ve been wanting to write for years now. I wasn’t even complaining about the process as much as I was about the fear of not being able to create the themes I want to flow through the book.

I kept telling her I would finish the outline and send it to her for months. Then one day, I forced myself to sit down with a cuppa, a container of Cheerios, my computer, and Facebook Messenger and type away. I set goals for the book and then for each section. After that, I thought about every major thing that I wanted to happen, and I tried to organise it and fit it into the sections and then into chapters. I finished my outline.

After months of procrastinating, complaining, and staring at a blank screen, I finished it.

But here I am, actively writing a book, still freaking out about my outline.

Will I even be able to use it?
Will the lessons I want to teach through it ever be realised?
What if something I don’t expect happens to the characters? How will I work that in?
How will I be able to fit all of these scenes together?
Is there even enough stuff here to make a story long enough?
Or is there too much?

I’ve already thought of some scenes that I had been so excited to write that I now have no idea how to fit into the outline, and that scares me.

But that’s the thing about an outline: It isn’t set in stone. You can change it.

Don’t let your fears or anxieties stop you from outlining, but more importantly, don’t let them stop you from writing. I know it can be stressful, overwhelming, and confusing, but it’s worth it. You’re worth it.


Are you a “planner” or a “pantser”? How do you handle your anxieties about outlining and plotting? Let me know in the comments!

Setting Goals

I think everyone knows the struggle of setting goals. Whether it be writing, exercise, reading, creating, or monetary goals, we can’t seem to stop ourselves from creating giant mile markers in our lives. We usually set the goals when we’re feeling on top of everything and ready to tackle the world, but we don’t often take into account that once that motivation starts to fade, the things we’re enjoying and planning to accomplish tend to become the same things that stress us out to no end and are put on the back burner because life just gets in the way.

My writing goals for 2016 are a great example.

Goals Accomplishments
Screenplay(s) for Eragon

(because everyone knows it needs to be redone)

It hasn’t even been started.

…but I did reread the book.

Novel It has been started, but it is only at 4187 words out of a minimum goal of 65000.
Ten short stories Three shorts stories were plotted, but none were finished.
Twenty poems Eight poems were written.
YouTube scripts (one a week) Only about ten YouTube videos were written, and only five recorded.
Blogs (two a week) Well, this went well for a few months, and then everything went awry, and I’m just starting back up (yet again) with a goal of one post a week.

Originally my goal was to finish my novel and the screenplay by June on top of half of the other goals as well. What I didn’t account for was my motivation or stress levels. I quickly encountered problems with that blog of mine disappearing, trying to balance part-time fast food work and a few full-time level freelance gigs, trying to find new roommates, looking for steady work, and traveling.

The thing is, though, that if I had taken a few things into account and simply structured my goals and my schedule better, I could have easily accomplished these goals.

  • Set aside specific days to work on specific projects.

I’m far more likely to work on them and reach my goals, even if I’m still not very good at sticking to it. I’ve been trying to write blog posts on Thursdays so that I can have them ready to post on Mondays. Although I’ve been awful at it for the last few months, when I push myself to do it, I can easily whip out a blog and put it up on the editing page that Azelyn and I use.

Now this technique looks different for writing my novel and all my other projects. Starting in January, I’ll be aiming to write a minimum of 2700 words a week for six months. I’ll be trying to split that throughout the week, but I will be setting aside the most time on Sundays and Fridays to work towards this goal. I’ll be planning like this for my other goals as well.

Here’s what my average weekly writing schedule now looks like:

SONY DSC

Now this might seem excessive (it certainly does to me), but if I routinely follow this schedule and manage my time, it should be relatively easy to follow. I’ll definitely be allowing myself to work ahead on any/all project if and when I like, and I’m quite excited to do so.

  • Set smaller goals at different increments that will help you reach your larger goal.

As you can see in my planning chart above, I’ve come up with specific goals for each week, and even each day. Obviously, nearly every day has overlap, but I vary the degree of difficulty/time commitment from day to day. But the most important factor is that I have a minimum goal for every week.

I’ve found that having weekly goals helps me most, but some people prefer daily, monthly, or quarterly goals. Having the weekly goals, but a daily plan gives me some leeway on what I should/could accomplish in a given day. I’m already aware that there will be days or weeks that I cannot finish the tasks I’ve marked. My schedule and the goal to work slightly ahead will help when those times arrive.

  • Work ahead when possible.

I know this is something I tend to hate thinking about, just like many of my friends do. But sticking to a schedule and getting ahead of the original plans can not only help reduce stress in the future, but it can also help your creativity become an integral part of who you are and get you in the habit of working on your projects, even when you don’t feel like it.

  • Find someone to help keep you accountable.

This can occur in so many different ways. I’ve tried several systems, and each has worked in its own time. Currently I use a combination of a couple accountability techniques: inquiring, nagging, and punishing.

Azelyn and I already talk on a daily (or as close as we can get) basis. However, amidst our regular conversations and fangirling, we still constantly ask each other how our projects are coming along. Largely, this is just because we’re curious, nosy, and each other’s number one fan. But also, we do it to ensure we’re actually being productive. The nagging is very rarely towards Azelyn, and it’s usually just about getting her post on our editing page earlier so I don’t have to edit it super early on Sunday morning. It’s a whole other matter for me. Azelyn is constantly nagging me about any and every project I’ve set before myself because I am the queen of procrastination…which is one of the reasons we’ve added punishments to our accountability. Right now, this is specifically meant for our blog posts, but once the new year hits, it will also include my videos and my novel word count. We’re still working out how those punishments will work out; but for the blog, every day that I fail to write a blog post past its deadline, I owe her a dollar. (Right now that’s up to $13. *oops*)

  • Reward yourself for reaching your goals.

Now I have no idea how I’ll do that this coming year yet, but I have a few ideas in mind, given that I have the money. This could be as little as eating a cookie when you reach your weekly word goal or as big as taking a vacation when you finish your novel. But whatever it is, don’t make the goals too small and the rewards too big. Make sure you actually have to work in order to be rewarded; then the victory will taste even sweeter.

What are some techniques you use to help set your writing (or life) goals?
What are some of your favourite reward systems for reaching your goals?
Let me know in the comments!

White Colours

The golden hues and raging reds
fill the skies before they’re dead.
A vast blank page left laying out
for everyone to see in doubt.
When light seems bright but life seems gone,
remember to look at the dawn,
where the hidden growth shines deep below the snow,
and the brown and orange give way to hope.
Just look and see the somber joy give way to happy sadness
as a new time begins and we all raise our glasses.
Take the time to see the glory of it all,
with your eyes half-masked by the cold’s call,
because the journey’s just begun,
as the silver bells are rung.
And as green takes the place of gold,
remember what you were told:
Be merry and bright.
For the time is right
for you to grow
and to let what has been hidden show.
As the whites and deep greens fade to kaleidoscopic hues,
make sure you’re the one to choose
what you’ll be and who you are.
Because you’ve already come so, so far.

Talking about Writing

All writers do it. We babble on and on about our current and future projects, we make promises we have every intention to keep, but no determination to do so, and we talk about our work some more. We can spend hours—years even—talking about our blog, novel, poem, and short story ideas. But if we never start planning and writing, what is all the rambling about?

We spend too much time talking about what we’ll write and not enough time putting the words on the page.

I am just as guilty of doing this. I’ve spent nearly three years talking about my novel, but at the beginning I only wrote around 350 words, planned about four scenes, and jotted down a semi-detailed plot. Two years later, I completely scrapped everything but two specific characters and the overarching plot. Now I have approximately 6000 words written, but I haven’t touched it much for over six months. I keep talking about it to everyone, but I never really try to create Zoe’s story.

Don’t get me wrong, talking can be a huge help in plotting, writing, and getting past writer’s block, but it can also be a wonderful tool of procrastination and even kill your desire to write.

When you spend all your time telling others about your ideas and giving them detail after detail, you may lose your yearning to actually create the work you’ve been rambling on about for ages. You start to feel as if you’ve told everyone who matters all the important things about your project, and as a result, you don’t feel as though you need to write it anymore. This has definitely happened to me, multiple times. It happened when I first started writing my novel. That’s one of the reasons I started over almost completely. It happened when I started my blog back of last time. I talked about it, but when I sat down to type my posts up, I couldn’t think of anything because I had already told a large part of my audience what I would be saying in my posts. At that point, it didn’t seem to matter anymore. So I stopped writing as much, and eventually stopped writing altogether (though there were other circumstances that played into that poor decision as well).

Speaking to your friends about it can actually wear you out and cause you to get bored of the project. I’ve done this with a few short stories. I’ve talked about them so much that I got tired of them, set them aside, and never picked them back up again. Thinking of which, I should probably look through some of those. But if it’s all you talk about with people, they’ll start to think it’s the only topic you want to discuss, so they’ll ask about it. And you’ll have to talk about it more, answering questions that may or may not be sincere and wishing you were talking to a cat about sleeping all day instead.

If you’re rambling on about your project, make sure you’re actively working on it as well. And leave some mystery! Don’t delve into all the details, just mention what you’re stuck on, how much you’re writing or plotting currently, or some broad ideas. When you omit details in conversations about your projects, you may spark their interest and they may become one of your most avid readers. Leave a possibility for intrigue, work your butt off, and see how your stories flourish.

How do you talk about your writing projects? Do you indulge your listener with loads of details? Do you talk about it until you’re bored? Let me know in the comments!