Tuesday, November 27, 2012
By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund
Every writer has a different method to their madness. There’s no right or wrong way to weave a story from beginning to end. Of course, I believe every writer should study the craft, learn as much as they can about fiction-writing basics--but then, ultimately, each writer needs to pull it all together in a way that works for them.
All that to say, what works for me, won’t be a fit for everyone. Nevertheless, if I had to pick one way to describe how I write my books, I’d have to say “I write by scenes.” From start to finish, I build my entire book with one scene upon another.
I know many writers use the technique of scene-writing. There are even writing books that go into detail about writing scenes. So, I don’t claim to be the expert. In fact, I’m still learning with each book that I write what works and what doesn’t.
With that said, here are just a few of the scene-writing techniques I incorporate into my books:
1. Plan out the scene before writing it.
Not everyone is a planner—I completely understand that. But . . . there’s something to be said about being intentional with the blank page that sits directly in front of us. Maybe we won’t map out the entire book, but when we carefully make decisions about a scene before writing it, we have the potential to make it richer and fuller. Here are the things I plan out before writing a scene:
• Time and Date: Keeping track of this will come in handy later during line-editing
• POV (point of view): Whose POV would have the greatest impact for the scene? Who’s POV haven’t I used lately? Whose POV can best move the plot along?
• Setting: How can I alternate the setting so that I don’t have too many scenes in the same room or area?
• Sensory Details: What sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds can bring the scene alive? What other details can help set the mood of the scene?
2. Set scene goals carefully.
We should be aiming to incorporate only those things into our stories that have a purpose, whether to move the plot along, enhance our theme, build our characters, or foreshadow what’s to come. I make bullet points for everything I hope to accomplish within the scene that I’m about to write. As I sit down to do the actual writing, things often change, but the goals keep me on target. Whatever I don’t end up including in the scene, I circle so that I can try to remember to include that “goal” in a later scene.
3. Let the scene play out like a movie.
Once I have my scene planned out, then I write it, letting it play out in my mind like a movie, keeping the action moving, showing what’s happening. But of course, I’m also in my POV character’s head. So I make sure to show what’s going on inside her head, her reactions, emotions, conflicts, and eventually her growth.
4. Decide how much transition (or sequel) is needed.
Some writers use transition or sequel to move to their next scene. Others (like me) jump-cut to the next scene without the filler. When we cut off one scene and then move directly to the next, we often still need to weave in transitional information like the passing of time or anything significant that’s happened between the scenes. Not everything is important enough to include, so we have to decide what the reader must know for the story to make sense, and then thread those things throughout the scene (usually the early paragraphs).
5. Begin and end the scene with hooks.
If possible, we should look for ways to draw our readers immediately into a scene (similar to the way we want to hook them with the first paragraphs of our books). And likewise, we should try to end our scenes with a ROP (read-on-prompt)—something that urges the reader to keep turning the pages to find out what’s going to happen next.
There you have it. My method through the madness! What’s your method? Do you write by scenes or some other way? And if you write by scenes, what other techniques do you use to bring it to life?
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