Monday, July 21, 2014

How To Develop Your Story Idea Into a List of Key Scenes - Part 2

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

Jill is going to be here this afternoon to check in how the word warring is going (the Go Teen Writers word war starts today!) but before she does, I'll wrap up what I started two weeks ago when I talked about how I develop my ideas into lists of key scenes.



(Looking for part one? Here it is!)

I love studying writing, and I'm a wee bit obsessed with learning how other writers write their books. If I've learned anything about writing in the last 13 years, it's that no writer is the same, and that you only figure out what works for you by trial and error.

One of the first craft books I ever read was Stephen King's On Writing, which my parents gave to me for Christmas when I was a senior in high school. And if you're going to copy someone's style, who better than Stephen King? So early on in my pursuit of being a novelist, I was very anti-plot, anti-plan. And that worked quite well for me ... until I got published. And then I figured out that it's a little tougher to get away with not planning your novels when your name isn't Stephen King. (Publishers aren't so keen on it.)

Since those years, I've sat in many classes and read many books and blog posts about how different writers write. I've charted. I've Snowflaked. I've used index cards. I've made plot skeletons.

The technique of using a list of key scenes to think through a book is one of those things I found in my studies that works well for me. It makes my list-loving brain happy, limits the rabbit trails because I make myself answer a lot of hard questions early, and yet it's a loose enough plan to keep my artist's heart from feeling too confined.

If this technique works for you, then you will likely put your own spin on it and make it yours. For me, it works like this: I take my story ideathe one I've written a blurb for, talked over with close writing friends, and written a chapter or twoand then I print out a template I've made for myself. I'm going to include several versions of my templates with the Go Teen Writers newsletter that goes out tomorrow.

Working from my template, which is a list of scenes like the ones I posted two Mondays ago, I start filling in the information I already know.

I typically already know how I want the book to open. Sometimes I know a twist that I want to happen in the second half of the book. I don't stress about going in order or being perfect, because this is just about gathering ideas.

After I've filled in everything about the story that I know (or everything I think I know) then I try to work chronologically. I play the "What if?" game like I'm sure you do when you're writing. "This just happened to my character. How would they react to this? What if...?" And I jot down whatever comes to me that seems decent.

I don't rush this process, I carry the notes around with me for days. There's something about having them close by that ensures some part of my brain is working through the story even as I'm flipping pancakes or folding socks. That's why they might look a little mangled by the time I'm done:

Page 1 of 3 for my work-in-progress that has two point of view characters

The most important thing to keep in mind is that this is a tool. You're in charge of it, not the other way around. So if you're working off the template and decide, like I did, that your character isn't going to refuse the call, just cross it out.

Or maybe you decide that you want an atonement with the father scene to come in the middle, not the end. Move it around, and see how it works!

Also, don't let yourself think it has to be all filled out before you start. If you've been thinking about the scenes for a few days, and you just have no idea what the crazy plan will be, but you're feeling ready to write, just skip over it. You'll figure it out when you get there. Because the point of it all is to write a great book, not walk away with a pristine outline.

Even if you spent weeks on your outline, chances are that by the time you get to the second half of the book, you'll might be shifting things around anyway.

Happy writing today, everyone! Once I drop my kids off at summer camp, I'll be joining you!





24 comments:

  1. Awesome post, Stephanie!! Thank you!! =D The WW starts today YAY and I have Internet!! YAY I'm so happy! ;) I'll be back later for some WWing ;) Have fun you guys starting it off! =)

    TW Wright
    ravensandwriting.blogspot.com

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  2. I only have about 120 or so words. (I'm homeschooled, and we're doing all year round school), so I'm writing during breaks. But after I'm done with school, the beast will be unleashed!! mwahahahahhahahhah >:)

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    1. I haven't written any yet but will write tons this afternoon. :-D We homeschool year round. ;-)

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    2. We homeschool all year round too. ;) I graduated from high school last year though, so have more time for writing now. :)

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    3. Same here with the homeschooling year round...yay, I'm not the only one who had to get through math/writing/science/Spanish/whatever before writing! xD

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  3. Can anyone word war right now?

    I have about 423 words in about 15 minutes. =) How are you guys?

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  4. I am working on a new chapter with 303 words to start.

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  5. Anyone want to do a ten minute word war?

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  6. Can there be more than one of each? For example, some villagers help my MCs escape, but later in the story they also visit an oracle. I think both of these count as "Supernatural Aid", but I don't know if I'm allowed to do both. Thanks for these posts; they're super helpful!! :)

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    1. Oh, for sure. You're the boss! I think it's also something that might count as "Momentary victory" or "Calvary" or something else in the later stages from this list:

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2014/07/how-to-develop-your-story-idea-into.html

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    2. So the list can be completely, totally, and utterly out of order?

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  7. Hey, Stephanie. Is there a separate word war post that's going to be published? Or is this the one? I'm was little confused of where to participate in the word wars, but then realized that a few people already commented on this one.

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    1. I was a little confused too, Katie Grace. :)

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    2. I'm glad that I'm not the only one. :)

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    3. Sorry! I wrote my post while on Benadryl, so... probably not my clearest :)

      Jill will be posting around noon today (like in an hour) but you're welcome to word war here for now. Sorry for the confusion!

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    4. That's fine! And I smiled over the Benadryl. I took it last night (came down with a cold), and it makes me sleep like the dead. ;)
      Thank you, Mrs. Morrill!

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  8. Thank you for the post, Mrs. Morrill! Very interesting. I love seeing examples, and have learned a lot of helpful things. :) Ah yes. I spent weeks outlining the first book in my series, and by the time I got 2/3 of the way into it or so, really changed up my original plan.
    Great point about it being a tool and your the master! Sometimes it's easy to forget that. :)

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    1. I think it's a perfectionist thing for me. I want it to look all tidy and organized ... and it just never does.

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    2. I totally understand, Mrs. Morrill. :)

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    3. *sigh* I very much like the idea of outlining, hence my pristinely developed chapter by chapter, blow by blow of one of an upper chapter book/ lower middle grade I'm playing with for Camp NaNoWriMo. Then I changed things, and I'm perpetually tempted to change the outline, too, because it annoys me that the outline and the actual story are different.

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  9. Anyone up for a word war? *sly smile* :-D

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  11. Ooh, I should go back and read the first post, since I just got a vague new idea. It keeps changing with whatever story in which I absorb myself. I watch a movie in which the family is short on money and end up contemplating what the novel would look like if the MC's family was short on money. I think back to a scene in one of my required summer reading books and end up contemplating how a scene in which my MC needed a ride home from her not-yet-boyfriend would play out. In some ways it's nice to daydream like that, but in others it kind of scares me how very unstructured it is.

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  12. I could totally see this "key scenes" thing working out for me. Unfortunately, I'm at the point in the sequel I'm writing where I'm starting to question everything I had planned for the second half of the book. Eeeek! It's a little panic-inducing, but trying to calm down...

    For now I'm going to try to keep writing, but it feels like I've figured out how the story "works" now and I'm not sure what I'd planned is going to work.

    Any advice for that moment?

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