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!

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!

What Do You Do?

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
The twists, the turns, the lifts, the dives.
It all comes at different speeds,
at different levels, at different needs.
Once you think you’ve caught your breath,
you’re off again.
A completely new adventure.
Sometimes the water fills your lungs—
your world turns dark.
At others, your eyes are so full of colour
that it starts to leak through your tears,
your pores,
your fingers.
You struggle to release it,
either because the expression is difficult
or because there’s too much to share.
But what do you do when it’s both?
The veil pulled down,
and the colours revealed?
You dance,
filling the air with bursts of colours and smooth lines of grey.
You paint,
overflowing the canvas with black and blue and shades of the day.
You sing,
pouring rivers of red and purple into our ears.
You love,
pouring out the melange of pink and green, yellow and orange, brown and turquoise that’s consumed you through the years.

You be.
You be you.
You be who you long to be.
You be the people you look up to.
You be you in your greatest dreams.

You
be
you.

And breathe.

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!

Seizing Opportunities

I’m not really the most qualified to write about this. I’ve not actually had many opportunities worth mention come my way, let alone seized them. But that’s part of what this is about. The opportunities I have had have been beyond incredible, and I couldn’t imagine my life without them. But I passed others by and dreamed of others without them appearing.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel to Europe on three separate occasions, each for a month or longer; to freelance edit through a small publishing company; to become friends with some amazing people; and to write on a daily basis and have people actually interested in my work, even if it’s only a handful of people.

Some of these opportunities were handed to me; others I worked my butt off for and still am. But here’s the thing a lot of people don’t tend to think of about opportunities: most are not handed to you; most of them you have to make.

I’ve never been very good at taking initiative. I enjoy being given assignments and then working until they’re finished. But the things you really want in life rarely come in such a fashion. My study abroad trip was an opportunity that was presented to me, but I had to work like crazy trying to raise the money to go and studying French with vigour, and it was the same for my internship a couple years later. I’m awful at fundraising, but I worked as hard as I could until I got to where I needed to be. And after I arrived in France, I did everything I could to ensure I was giving 100% to getting the best grades possible and do the best work I could with the best attitude. Some days seemed easy, others seemed like death, and others could almost be ignored. But I never stopped working with everything I had while I was studying or interning.

When I started freelancing, I rarely got any work, and most of it ended up being pro bono. Eventually I started getting asked if I could edit things for particular prices, and who was I to turn them do? I started to build up my resume bit-by-bit, and I will continue doing so my entire life. But if I hadn’t started editing for free and trying to get my name out there among friends and such, I never would have gotten the recurring position I have at the publishing company. I’ve only had three projects with them so far, but each project has taken well over 35 hours of work and taught me more than I could have ever expected about the editing world, the different writing manuals, and my own ambitions in editing. I’ve learned that I definitely prefer editing fiction works, even though most of my paid editing work has been nonfiction; I learned that I prefer APA to MLA or Chicago, despite the fact that I know MLA the best; and I learned that I will never know everything about editing, no matter how much I study and work.

Many times over the years, I’ve let my anxiety stop me from meeting people and becoming friends with them. Thankfully, I’ve not let each opportunity to make a new friend pass by because my life would be quite drab without those humans whom I’m lucky enough to call my friends. It can be odd to think of friendship as something that you have to work at, but it can be really difficult sometimes, whether it’s because of drastic differences in current moods and opinions or busyness and full schedules making it near impossible to talk to/see your friends. For me though, I have to work a little harder. I tend to feel on a regular basis as though even my closest of friends hate me, even though I know it’s far from true. The negative thoughts and overwhelming fears that are constantly flooding my mind tell me that I’m an awful, worthless, despicable, clingy human being. And they also tell me that if I think that of myself, then others must think far worse. Feeling like that can make it nearly impossible to talk to friends, let alone strangers and acquaintances, and I constantly have to remind myself that those things aren’t true. It’s difficult to think positively about such things, and it’s even more difficult to act upon the positive thoughts by messaging people and showing them that I care about them, no matter how I feel that day.

Almost everyone has the opportunity to write nowadays and even the opportunity to have a public audience of some sort. But writing is one of the things I am most passionate about, and it’s also one of the things I have to work the most at. Sometimes writing can seem easy, and it tends to get easier the more I do it. But it is also one of the most difficult things to do, especially when trying to write things that appeal to your audience, that you enjoy writing, that are well thought through, and that are entertaining to read. And all of those things changes so much from post to post and project to project.

I—we—need to stop letting opportunities pass us by. We need to stop waiting for opportunities to present themselves and get up and create our own opportunities. Because the ones we make for ourselves tend to be the most satisfying. I know I’m going to keep creating more opportunities to grow creatively and to encourage others in their lives, their creativity, and their imaginations. What opportunities are you going to create for yourself?

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!

The Tube

This is something that originally started off being a writing prompt and a writing exercise, combined. Then it turned into a scene for my novel, which I had not been expecting to happen at all. The writing prompt: write a story based in an setting you won’t like (which I took to mean as a setting in which I would hate to be in an uncomfortable situation). The exercise: place your character into an intense/uncomfortable situation. So, without further ado, I present to you a scene from my novel.
***Trigger warning*** This scene involves sexual harassment.

The Tube

I can’t believe that I’m sat on the tube in front of the two blokes who always seem to creep out most of the passengers in the same car as them. I already have to deal with sitting on a variety of uncomfortable blue and red patterned seats with smushed cushioning for over an hour, and I really don’t want to be pestered or harassed by two potentially drunken idiots for half of my commute home. Luckily, they haven’t started any ruckus yet today. Or at least not that I have noticed. I haven’t really been paying them much mind. Instead I’ve been listening to the sweet tones of jazz and belting voices of West End whilst trying to make notes on my next edit of the skit for my cousin’s school. Now that I think about it, they’ve been all too quiet. I can usually hear them over my headphones, no matter how quiet they think they are.

I slowly turn around, prepared to see them leering at me with their lips slightly curled and raising their eyebrows or torturing the woman who just got on at the last stop by pecking at her clothes or describing her physique with explicit details. But I find them vandalising the window and the seats with a marker, which isn’t as near as frustrating as usual, so I let them be. However, as I start to turn back to my notebook, one of them glances over and catches me looking. He comes over and sets his long-fingered hand on my shoulder under my hair, massaging the knots in it with the bony tips of his fingers as he starts to take my headphones off my head and slide them around my neck. My entire body stiffens and my hands clutch the notebook and pen so tightly they turn white.

He reaches with his other hand to finger my hair. “Your curls just can’t be tamed, eh? Do they take after you? Can you be tamed?” his slimy voice slithers into my ear. I tense up even more and don’t dare to say a word. “I’d love to see if you’re just as wild. You can curl around me, tangle your body with mine, fling around, be free. Just come with us; we’ll show you how crazy you can be.”

I lean forward, just enough to lessen the closeness between his chest and my back, yearning for someone to do something. But the only other person on the carriage is the woman from the last stop. I try to remember those crazy things you’re taught in those hour long self-defense seminars, but all that comes to mind is how much I want to cry, scream, and puke. I squeeze my eyes shut as tightly as I can, holding the air out of my lungs while making my mouth seem to disappear. Then the squeal of the brakes starts to sounds as the four of us lurch slightly toward the front of the train as it stops at the next station.

“Mind the gap,” I hear the automated voice say, and I look up to peer through my lashes, out the corner of my eye to see if anyone is getting on. I see a small group of people and a few lone people make their way into the carriage, but they are all either looking away or trying to ignore the slightly muscular, brown-haired man caressing my hair.

The man pushes his body against mine again and starts whispering in my ear, but I’m not comprehending anything he says anymore. I’m too full of fear.

Then I hear a different voice, and the grip on my shoulder and the fingers in my hair loosen. I feel the warmth radiating between his chest and my upper back lessen as he backs away enough to talk with the other man, but he does not let go.

I force myself to listen.

“Dude, what are you doing?”

“What? You got something to say about me and my girl?” He pretends to gently pet my curls.

“She doesn’t seem too happy about you touching her.”

“Oh, and you get a say in that? She’s my girl; I’ll do what I want, wanker.”

“I don’t think she’s anybody’s girl.”

“Do you?”

“She’s a human being. Show her some respect, and sod off.”

“You sod off! The bitch needs to show me respect.” His hand on my shoulder moves to my hair and grabs tightly as he starts gesturing at the man who got on the tube.

I wince and whimper a little, the first sounds that have escaped my throat since getting on the train.

“I don’t think you deserve respect, you tosspot, and she doesn’t want you doing that.”

“I’ll show you what she wants!” My head is pulled back sharply, and I stifle a scream as he roughly lowers his mouth towards mine. I squeeze my eyes and lips tightly shut again and wait for the disgusting slobber and scent to collide with my face. But instead, I hear the clack and crunch of a jaw slamming shut and teeth meeting teeth and feel myself yanked back more and released. Then another crunching sounds as he is hit again.

“You bastard!” I hear my molester shout with a wet voice. “I’ll get you for this!”

“You might want to get off and go on to a clinic. Your teeth and nose don’t look so hot.”

I finally turn and look at the people behind me. The man, whose scent still lingers about me, is holding a few strands of my hair in one hand and covering his face with the other, blood streaming down his face and falling to his chest and the floor. If I weren’t so scared, I would probably be laughing with joy that such a crude man has finally been accosted.

“And you. I’ll teach you to respect me.” He snaps at me, pointing his finger in my face.

“Oi. Sod off!” The other man shouts, still shaking his hand free of pain.

With his nose still dripping, the lout sulks off to join his friend. They stand glowering at the back of the carriage until the next stop, and then disembark.

“I’m so sorry that happened. I hope you’re okay.” The man says in a very American accent, now massaging his hand lightly. “I’m Adam.”