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!

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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!

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!

Andrew: I Love the Sound

I’m starting a blog. I’ve never done this before, but Zoe has been bugging me about it for a while. I’m not super sure of why she wants me to, because her reasoning is ridiculous. She says that one day we won’t live so close to each other anymore and that it will be the best way for us to keep in touch. I asked her what I should write about, and she just told me to write about myself and the things that happen to me. Because those things are so exciting. I managed to talk her into sending me some blog prompts though.

Oh yeah, my name is Andrew. *waves from a distance*
I work in a shop. My grandma is famous. I live in London, but I’m actually from The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Tennessee. And that is basically my entire life.

Anyway. The first prompt is “I love the sound of…”

Do I just list these?
I guess so.

  1. I love the sound of popcorn in the microwave.
  2. I love the sound of a movie on the tv.
  3. I love the sound of American bacon in the pan.
  4. I love the sound of Zoe’s laugh.

This looks really stupid…

I love the sound of:

  1. Carolers in the park.
  2. Friends knocking on my door.
  3. The pizza delivery guy knocking on my door.
  4. My best friend’s singing (she sounds awful).
  5. A filling bath.
  6. A movie in a theater.
  7. The kettle whistling (because tea!).
  8. My grandma’s weird accent (she’s half British, half American and sounds a bit like Angela Lansbury).
  9. Zoe yelling at her computer.

So yeah. I hope you all have a great day. I don’t know if I’ll ever post again.

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.”