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!

Getting to Know Your Characters

There are seemingly countless ways to get to know your characters in anything ranging from short stories to novels. And there are almost as many blogs telling you how to get to know them and what way is the best way. I’m definitely not here to give you a definitive “this is how you do it!” But I will list the different techniques that have helped me most, and a couple that I just recently started on my own.

Character Sketches
Character sketches vary in depth a large amount, but doing them is incredibly helpful. You don’t even need to know much about your characters or story for this, but it’s a wonderful tool to improve your knowledge on your characters and how they affect your story/how your story affects them.

The character sketches that I usually do deal with nine things:
Physical Description
Role in the story
Motivation
Background
Goal(s)
Personality
Quirks/Oddities
First thing that others notice about him/her
Characters with whom he/she interacts and how

Character Interviews
These are a bit similar to character sketches; however, they are much more detailed. There are so many forms of interviews. Mine tend to change from character to character. Countless examples can be found online, and they are full of questions that seem obvious and others that you may not think are important at all, but provide details that come into play later or spark an idea for a scene or another story.

Here are some of my personal favourite interview questions that I never would have thought could become important, but have sparked ideas for scenes for my book:
What is your favourite flavour of ice cream?
What is your favourite animal, and would you keep one as a pet?
Would you rather be the first killed in a group or the last?
What is your least favourite form of travel?
What flavour is your toothpaste?
Who is your least favourite person to see over the holidays?

Placing Characters in Extreme Situations
So this is an idea I’ve heard floating around for a few years, and I always thought it was a bit bizarre though completely understandable. My main thought was that if you’re going to write such a scene, why wouldn’t you put it in your book? Well, sometimes scenes just don’t fit, but you can learn loads about your characters from them. The first time I did it was with a character from a short story I wrote for my Creative Writing course in uni. I didn’t use the scene, but writing about it helped me to understand how one of my characters carried herself and what she might be willing to do to protect herself or her loved ones. Even though the scene was far from fitting for the story, it gave me a few ideas for how she might interact with her co-part. The second time I did this exercise, it ended up making it into my novel, and has helped me learn far more about my two main characters than I could have ever expected. That one will actually be found here on my blog in a few days.

So even if you know or don’t think you would use such a scene in your story, write a scene or two set in dramatic situations so that you can learn how your characters will react and interact. It might surprise you.

Drawing Your Characters
Actually drawing your characters (or having someone else draw them for you) can be a great aid in changing your perspectives of them. It may help you realise how much their height is a burden, how visible their scars are, how comfortable they are in fancy outfits, or how little they care about their appearance.

But more importantly, doing this might also help you see them through the eyes of your other characters as well. I know that I frequently forget about my own moles, scars, eye colour, bone structure, and clothes; and I can guarantee that your characters do much the same. Visibly seeing your characters can help you see what things they tend to forget that others might notice as well as what your character fixates on that others pay no attention to.

Character Playlists
It’s incredibly rare that I do this, but I have found it very helpful. Learning your characters’ favourite tunes or finding songs that make you think of them can help inspire you or help you think more like them. I’ve made a playlist that starts off with a song that reminds me of my main character, even though she would never listen to it, and continues with some of the music that might be some of her favourite. For me, it can be a bit tricky to do this since the only music with words that I can listen to while writing is Christmas music, but I take the music that my character may like most (especially those songs that have lyrics) and intersperse them throughout the playlist. I tend to space them approximately 20 minutes apart so that I can spend a good portion of time writing before something play that could be distracting.

Shopping as Your Character
This one might be the most bizarre one on here, but it’s also been one of the most helpful for me. I’m not saying that you should actually buy things, but going to stores and looking around as if you were your character may help you learn about their preferences for clothing, decor, entertainment, and household/office supplies. These may be things that seem fairly trivial overall, but knowing how your character dresses, decorates, has fun, and how prepared they are for various circumstances in their household/office can help you stage and plot scenes quite well. It can also get you thinking as your character and help you write scenes you may be struggling with.

Blogging as Your Character
I just recently decided to start doing this for Zoe and Andrew (two of the main characters of my novel). I’ve realised that I’ve had a bit more difficulty getting into their minds when I go to write lately because it’s been so long since I’ve worked on the novel regularly. So I’ve started going through various blog and journal prompts and challenges through their perspectives. A lot of them are/will be rather similar to some of the interview questions, but they are meant for going further in depth in choices and explanations. This will not only help me to get to know my characters more, but it will help me to think more like them so that the transition from everyday life to writing life is a tad easier. I’ll be posting my first one from Zoe’s perspective tomorrow, so keep an eye out!

How do you get to know your characters more? How do you get inside their minds and think like them so that writing comes easier? Let me know down in the comments!