Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A checklist for writing scenes

presented by David J Normoyle

This can be used while planning a scene. Or afterwards, when reviewing your scene, you can think about what elements you've forgotten and add them in.

1. Purpose/Conflict
Make sure that the scene has a purpose in the overall story arc. Ideally there'll be a conflict to drive the scene and create tension.

2. Mood
Think about the mood you want to create. Is your hero feeling trapped or happy or overwhelmed? Are dark forces in the ascendancy? Or is there a sense of optimism? Use the mood to flavour your descriptions. Are the flowers bowed down under the weight of dewdrops? Or do they dance in the gentle breeze. Is the red in the carpet the colour of blood? Or roses?

3. Physical location
Fix the setting in your mind and think about what aspects you want to describe for the reader. It can be better to spread the descriptions throughout the scene rather than putting it all in a few paragraphs at the start. Remember to describe what your POV character would notice. So if he's in a new city he could be overwhelmed by new sights, sounds and smells, but if it's somewhere he's often, he might only notice something that has changed. Remember to flavour the descriptions by the mood of the scene and mood of your POV character.

4. Weather
If it's outside, have an idea of what the weather is. You don't have to mention it, but most likely small details about the weather can help round out a scene. And sometimes, of course, the weather can play a more dominant role in the scene.

5. Physical description of characters
What people are in the scene? If they are new to the reader and the POV character, you'll probably want to give a physical description. Otherwise, you can just throw in details here and there, especially in the middle of dialogue.

6. Senses
Remember the five senses. Sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Sight is automatically included in descriptions. Try to add some sound and smell to most scenes you write. Add touch and taste whenever appropriate.

7. Thoughts
During the scene, include the thoughts of your main character. This is the great power of books over films, the ability to allow the reader to experience the characters in full. At the start of the scene, what's the character thinking about? This is a great way to tie together previous scenes and to get across to the reader about things that might have happened between scenes. Then how does the character react to what happens during the scene?

8. Start/Finish
I think I remember seeing a quote that you should "start after the scene has started and leave before it's finished." Ideally start the scene with a hook to get the reader interested. And end the scene with either some kind of resolution or with a cliffhanger to lead to further scenes. The ending should leave the reader wanting more.

That's the end of my workshop. Thank you for reading. If you have any questions leave a comment.

12 comments:

BarbaraB said...

David,
These are all very good reminders of how a scene should shape up. You've given some good examples, too.
Thanks

jabberingjo said...

Thank you, David I am lax in some of the things you suggested. so often no one knows if my character is standing up or sitting down, etc. I really needed your remindes.

Joylene Butler said...

Excellent checklist.

Charlie said...

Wonderful workshop, David. Enjoyed the exercise and will keep this list of musts for scenes handy as I edit my chapters. Thanks so much!
C.K. Volnek

Wendy said...

You've given a wonderful template for writing rich, evocative scenes here, David.
Now we have no excuses. :)

Christopher Hoare said...

Thanks for the workshop, David. I'm blogging tomorrow and some of mine, on critique groups, overlaps your scene checklist. Actually, you have more than a checklist because you have fleshed out the purposes. It's a good thumbnail of a writing primer.

Have you ever read Bickham's Scene and Structure? It was a prerequisite for a crit group I belonged to---forgot to put that into my workshop.

Karen Cote said...

Thank you so much David! This is a great tool...especially the taste and smell. Sight gets used constantly, the other senses kind of get lost. Shoot, I think the Sixth sense gets used more than the other four.

Valuable.

JerryR said...

Thank you David for taking your time to post in this blog.

David J Normoyle said...

All,
Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading and commenting.

David J Normoyle said...

Christopher,
I haven't read Scene and Structure. I'll keep an eye out for it and might get it in the future.

Cheryl said...

Oops. Commented on wrong workshop, but it still applies. Nice workshop. Reminders we can all use.

J Q Rose said...

Thank you for this checklist. I am keeping this for future reference.