Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Write a Book Scene by Scene

A Different Approach to Writing Stories
by Marg McAlister 
Not everyone can start writing a novel at the beginning and work straight through. Some authors prefer to pour energy into writing good scenes, then link them up later. For authors who hate to plot, but love to lose themselves in writing story scenes, the 'scene by scene' method is an inviting way to produce a finished novel. Note that this method does not give writers permission to produce sloppy fiction. It simply means that they can hit the ground running by immersing themselves in writing good scenes at the beginning, then tweak later - when the book starts to take on a life of its own.
By then the writer knows what the characters are like; he understands what motivates them. He can see the broad sweep of the story, and the panorama excites him. Suddenly, it becomes much easier to weave the strands of the story together, because the writer has such an intimate knowledge of his story world.

Think of Your Novel as a Series of Film Scenes
Even if most of the story appears to be lost in the mist, the writer should have a rough idea of where the book is going. There should be a clear understanding of what is motivating the main character in at least one scene.
Try this: sit back and picture one of the characters (preferably the main character) then run through the scene as though watching a mental movie. Imagine the characters in action – in any scene from the book. (Tip: if necessary, do this with several scenes, then pick the most engrossing to write first.) Remember, if the author can see the characters clearly, then so will the reader.

Continue Writing Scenes From the Story
Write scene after scene, until the novel starts to take shape. Does it matter in which order the scenes are written? Not at all. Sometimes one scene will follow another; sometimes the scenes will be half a book apart. (Writers who prefer to write scenes in order are quite likely to create a standard linear plot to begin with.
Writers who care about professionalism (and selling the finished book) will still pay careful attention to structure of every scene and later, when they start to put the scenes together, the structure of the whole novel. Each scene must move the story along; it has to be there for a reason. The 'scene by scene' writer may have to delete some scenes at a later date, if they don't really 'fit' the finished story.
Is this a waste of time and effort? No, because those discarded scenes are very likely to have taught the reader a lot about the characters - and about the way the story is unfolding.

Check the Scene Structure
Ask the question: "Why is this scene in the story at all?"
The answer should sound like this: "Because XXX happened, and Character A had to..." in other words, something in the past kicked off the action in this scene. In novel-speak, this means that there was an inciting incident somewhere in the past. This could be the immediate past (five minutes before) or the distant past (five years before). For a scene to exist, there has to be a cause. The writer either knows what the cause is when he starts to write, or has to delve into the subconscious to work it out.

How to Write Scenes
In brief, a scene's structure should look something like this:
Something drives the viewpoint character to act. (The inciting incident). He now wants something and formulates a plan to get it. (The plan can be a half-baked impulse or a carefully-thought-out strategy.)
He encounters some opposition. This may take the form of opposition from another person, from the environment, from an object or from an inner struggle. (If there is no opposition, there will be very little tension in the scene - which means that it may fail to engage the reader.)
He takes action to overcome the opposition, and either gets what he wants, or doesn't. (Either is a result - and will lead to the next scene.)
After writing the scene, the writer should read it through to ensure that it contains all the necessary elements, and is both important enough and interesting enough to earn its place in the book.

Link the Scenes to Form a Story
This method of assembling a story is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, but it is more flexible. The writer can move scenes around to where they will have the most impact, and if necessary write extra scenes to fill any gaps.
Writing scenes in random order is not a method that will appeal to every writer. Some authors, as they write, have to let days and weeks unfold just as they do in the real world, one day at a time. In the end, it doesn't matter how the book gets written – as long as readers are gripped by a book they can't put down.

Article originally here published at Suite 101.

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