Tag Archives: scenes

what changes you bring

I’m writing by the seat of my pants this summer more than I ever have. It’s a lot of things–weird, wonderful, exciting, terrifying, roundabout, experimental, liberating, and slow-going.

Every novel I’ve written teaches me something. Sometimes the lessons came in failures. Others were simply in the practice of doing.

This pantsing summer for me has taught me much in the practice of doing (there’s plenty of lessons via failure, as well, I’m sure). How it feels awkward and stumbly, a bit like blindfolding myself over a tightrope of questionable stability.

There’s lots for me to cling to, to reinforce my sense of balance, of direction, and trust. After all, I’ve written a scene or two before. And dialog, physical conflict, emotions, all that good fictiony stuff. Now, instead of having a lot of these juicy bits planned out, prepared for, researched, and imagined, they come out as they come out.

It’s kinda neat.

One thing I still can’t rely on to come out by itself is mission-driven scene execution.

Someone really oughtta come up with a better name for it than that, because I can’t say that start to finish without biting my poor tongue. Mission-driven scenes really just means every scene has a goal, and knowing that goal helps carve out what needs to go in that scene.

Or put more poetically, what changes you bring (to the story).

Today I’m working on a scene in which a character learns a new piece of information. Often, this can be the change and that’s enough. But this new information, which she intentionally sought, doesn’t move the story forward–it’s a dead end. There’s nothing she can do as a response, other than say “oh, well, I tried.” I close the door on her, without opening a window or at least setting the house on fire.

The scene doesn’t bring any real change (new information that can/must be acted upon, raised stakes, escalated conflict, accelerated time-bomb, created a need, destroyed something important), and that’s a problem.

So that’s my new question: what change do I bring in this scene?

a (quick) scene checklist

We’re one week into Camp NaNoWriMo! Did you survive the holiday weekend with your novel intact?

I didn’t as well as I wanted to, but that’s okay–seeing family was good, and helping my toddler recover from all that family (and not enough sleep) was necessary.

Now Monday rolls in with this reminder that Camp is a quarter over and I’m right where I left off five days ago. So here’s something I’m using today to get me jump-started back into noveling excitement…

A (Quick) Scene CheckList:
Does my scene…

  • have a mission or story purpose?
  • raise the stakes, escalate the conflict, or introduce danger?
  • create/show motivation, needs, or flaws?
  • evoke all five senses?
  • have dialog/internal monolog?
  • have a strong point of view?
  • have a setting that the characters use/are influenced by?
  • show us something specific and new about the characters/story?
  • have a beginning/middle/end?
  • reflect the context of the novel (foreshadowing, setup, payoff)?
  • fit the story I’m trying to tell?

Setting out to make every scene fit all these criteria (and more, since there are more complicated checklists out there) can get stressful, but if I can’t check off most of these items, then my scene isn’t really a scene. The bolded are my must-haves.

What scene criteria do you look for to make planning your scenes easier?