Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Creating a Scene Breakdown

So if you liked the character chart thing, my guess is the Scene Breakdown Spreadsheet will rock your writing world too.

I think I mentioned this last week, but the Scene Breakdown Spreadsheet (hereafter referred to as the SBS because I don't want to keep typing that) is new to me as well. As in, I'm making my first one right now.

I made my SBS in an Excel spreadsheet. So far mine has two columns:

What happens
Chapter #

Of course, I only ever use one POV character. If you're working on a project with multiple POVs, you might benefit from having a column for that as well.

Here's what I typed in my "What happens" column: Madeline is eating with Brandi and Macy. They talk about what she can do to be taken more seriously. Jasper is there. Macy is surprised, but Madeline wonders if he followed them.

All you want is the essence of the scene.

Here are some benefits I see from making an SBS:

1. Helps identify plot problems. The synopsis can do that too, but of course this is much more detailed.

2. Can maximize writing time. It means less time sitting in front of your computer and thinking, "Okay ... so .... what should happen next...?" You can look at the chart.

3. It's a flexible way to plot. You decide 2/3 of the way through that a scene or two needs to be added? You can insert them super easy. Or if you have new thoughts about the ending, you can create an alternate ending in another column and get a feel for which you like better.

4. Gives you a clear goal when writing a scene. Nothing drags down a story more than scenes that go nowhere. Every scene should have a point, should be doing something. This is a great tool to help you accomplish that.

5. Makes room for life to get in the way. Two years ago, I was really in a writing groove. I'd written about 75% of my book and knew it would just be another week or two before I was typing, "The End." Then I came down with an evil head cold. There was even a trip to the ER via ambulance involved. I laid on the couch for a week and did nothing but read all 4 Twilight books.

Needless to say, I lost my groove. When I finally got back to my story, I was fuzzy on what was supposed to be happening next in the story, and my character suddenly talked a lot more like Bella Swan. Wound up taking me another month to finish my book. So aggravating.

While my breaks from my stories aren't always so dramatic, I often have to take a break at least once during the writing process. My publisher needs edits on a contracted book, or there's a death in the family. Having something like a scene chart can help bring me back to story world.

That's all for today! As always, if you have writing questions, shoot me an e-mail.


  1. I love having a "feel" for what's going to happen next, but not exactly have every detail sketched out. I'm also organized in a not-so-organized way... if that makes sense. But I'm currently trying to learn some organization and outlining tips for my writing, so thanks for sharing this!

  2. Tessa, I'm very similar! I'm having to force myself to become more organized about my plots.

  3. Great thoughts! I think I've instinctively done this on a small scale! It so funny to read this post today & this afternoon cleaning some things out (I'm moving across the country :) :/) I found a few scrap pieces of paper with a light SBS on it.
     But from reading your past lessons I know a bunch of the scenes would be scraped because it's before the story really starts. 
    It's a great idea to set up a spreadsheet

  4. Tonya, I love it when I find I've done something "right" instinctively :)

    The good thing about an SBS is it can help you determine a good starting point for the story. And all those thoughts you had about pre-story stuff will only make your plot richer!

  5. Thank you so much for this blog! And the Write Now. I literally read all of your blogs in one evening, starting from the newest and working back to the first of 2011. This is helping me become way more organized! And I'm OCD, so that's great! :D Also, this blog provides the chance for a healthy competition against one of my close friends that I don't usually get.

  6. Great ideas here! The "Life gets in the Way" one hits home for me haha- I just started writing my first four chapters when I was blessed with a double ear infection, sinus infection, and stomach flu that knocked me out for two weeks. I got so lost when I started writing again, and I'm still getting caught up and reorganized now! :)

  7. Justin, I'm so glad you're enjoying the posts and finding them useful. It's a lot of fun for me to write them. And happy to provide healthy competition!

    Anna, yuck! What a rough couple weeks. Glad you're starting to feel caught up!

  8. I've only just found this blog and it's great! I'm taking part in Nanowrimo in November and am spending the next few months trying to set up and plan my novel and this website has helped me so much!! Thanks x