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!

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.”