Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Create a List of Memorable Scenes to Help You Plot

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

If you're in the middle of writing a book, hopefully you know your characters very well. You should know their likes, dislikes, hobbies, hopes, fears, goals, etc.

You can use the information you've created to help you plot by creating a list of scenes or moments from scenes that will fit who your characters are, what's happening in the story, and your story's theme. Here's how:

1) Brainstorm a list of feelings. For example: love, hate, disgust, joy, fear, curiosity, anger, excitement, boredom, nervousness, etc.

2) Brainstorm a list of circumstances that would bring out one of the above feelings in a very strong way from one of your characters. Not just "he hates broccoli and there's some on his plate for dinner." You want something that will cause your character to act. Remember, what might bring about a strong reaction from you, might not do the same for your character. Work hard to make the circumstance relatable to him.

To give you an example, I'll use Prince Trevyn, who I've talked about before. He's one of my characters from my work in progress (WIP) King's Folly. Trevyn would react strongly to:
-being told what to do, especially by his mother or father (anger)
-seeing an innocent person killed (anger)
-discovering someone has manipulated him (hatred)
-being confined to his room (boredom)
-sailing (joy)

3) Write down your story's theme or variations of it. The theme for King's Folly is: Freedom. Also, I created this phrase as a Moral Premise theme: Carelessness leads to chaos and death, but wisdom leads to order and life.

4) Create a list of scenes that are in line with your story's theme(s), and give the corresponding reaction.
-Trevyn's mother tries to force him to marry. (anger)
-Trevn learns that someone is trying to kill him. (fear)
-Trevn's mentor dies. (sorrow)
-Trevn finds a rune that matches one drawn by a murdered woman. (curiosity)

5) Decide how your character would react to each situation.
-When Trevn's mother tries to force him to marry, he would do anything to get out of it, including running away. This would be a somewhat careless choice (in regard to his mother) and would only make more trouble for him when she gets home.
-When Trevn learns someone is trying to kill him, he would publicly align himself with someone stronger. This would be a wise choice that could save his life, as it would make the bad guys hesitant to come after him.
-When Trevn's mentor dies, he would become determined to find out the cause of death and he would also think carefully about the man's last words. This would cause Trevn to seriously consider things he never had before. This would be a wise choice that would eventually set Trevn's life and his country on a better path.
-When Trevn sees that his cousin carries a stone etched with the same mysterious rune drawn by a murdered woman, he would investigate at once. This would be both careless and wise because while Trevn would be wise to seek the truth, he would carelessly risk his backman's life by sending him to investigare alone.

Now it's your turn. Share in the comments:

-A circumstance and the strong reaction it would bring out in your character,
-The theme of your story,
-A possible scene that would fit the theme of your story. Give the corresponding feeling that would result from the scene.
-How your character would respond to the situation.


  1. Thank you so much for this post! I am in the middle of a story right now and feeling a little stuck. I'm discovering as I write that I am more of a plotter than a pantser, which is a problem because I didn't plot out the middle of my story before I started writing it. This advice will be very helpful in plotting the rest of my story and coming up with scenes that will advance the plot.

    1. It's great that you're discovering your process, Natalie! That will help you so much in the long-term. This can be a great way to come up with scenes for a sagging middle.

  2. Wow. Not only am I in the middle of my WIP, but last night, while I was working out my scenes for today, I plotted a scene that fits right in to this! :D (This post is sheer genius, by the way. Saving it to favorites immediately.)

    -My MC and her friend are inside an enemy stronghold that's booby-trapped. While hunting around, a door springs up between them and my MC has to face the enemy alone, without any help from her friend.
    -The theme of my story is "facing your fears".
    -My MC has to face her fear of the enemy to help her and her friend escape.

    Thanks again for this post!

    1. Great example, Linea! Looks like you've got this process down!

  3. The theme of my story is "there are no good guys"
    My FMC witnesses Ghost assassinate/murder someone. (betrayal and fear)
    My FMC would probably run away from him at that moment but later on go and shout at him until she calms down. Then Ghost would explain himself and they'd continue being friends but my FMC would be wary of him.

    Thanks for this great post.

    1. You're welcome, Ryder. Thanks for doing the example. It's fun to read them all. :-)

  4. I agree with Linea. Genius post. Anyhoo, this sounds like real fun. Okay...

    -My MC (Dorlin Hull) finds out that his master the Emperor, a man he hates and yet admires because he taught him everything (well, not everything...*spoiler alert!*) he knows, is trying to kill him. Because that does happen. Dorlin would feel: a. anger, b: fear, and c: lots of hatred, because he hates his master already. But he's the only one who he can rely on, the only one who he believes saved his parents from death - total opposite by the way - so that is gonna be very interesting. Hey, Hull would also be broken. Yep, a little. Definitely. Even though he would hide it. Heck, he's trained to hide it, as a assassin. But something inside him, deep in there, would have shattered. Wuhhoohahaha!

    SO. I guess that killed two birds with one stone. Onward!

    The theme - Facing your fears. Hull is scared of fire, when he is a Flameweaver. Or finds it out, eventually. He hates the Emperor, and I guess deep in there he always was afraid of murder...the heart never lies.

    Dorlin would rebel. He would unleash all that anger, fear and hate he already harbors toward the Emperor, multiplied by fifty, and find him, and *kill* him. Nothing short. Because if the Emperor tries to kill him, then that means he also committed arson to his home and village, and killed his parents. If I were the Emperor, I'd run. Fast.

  5. This exercise was much harder than I thought it was going to be! I know what the theme of my story is, but it's tough to find scenes that explicitly display the theme. That said, I think this is a great idea and I'll definitely be attempting it.

    1. Once you have this exercise in the back of your mind, scenes might come to you as you're writing/editing, Alyssa.

  6. I'm not a plotter, but I'll try this sometime, but not right now. (I literally almost can't plot at all...)

  7. Well, this is brilliant. Thanks, Jill!

  8. A circumstance - My MC has lived with his mentor all his life, so if they were to become separated he would be afraid of what could happen (which is to say, he could very well die) without his mentor's wisdom and hesitant to face situations alone.

    The theme - Hmm, a little harder, but I'd have to say the theme of my WIP is nobility and choosing to do things for the good of others.

    A scene - Easy, just separate the MC from his mentor and his other wise friends. Maybe they must go different ways for their quest to succeed, or only the MC escapes an attack from their enemies. Either way, my MC would be lost without his mentor and quite afraid of the world with one of his closest guardians and friends stripped away.

    How the character would respond - He would probably try to bring back memories of all the things his mentor had taught him over the years and use those to guide himself onwards. His quest has to be completed, after all, so he has to find a way forward even it means being directly exposed to the dangers of the wild.

    1. Good job! I think you've got this down! :-)