Monday, April 18, 2011

Writing in Scenes

In On Writing, Stephen King talks about the first draft being about "the trees," versus the forest, which is what you deal with in the second draft.

Forests are made up of different types and sizes of trees. Some are small. And some are.... Well, not.

And just like forests are made up of all different sizes and shapes of trees, so your manuscript will be made up of all different types of scenes. Some scenes will be 500 words. Some will 2,500. There's no reason to make them uniform in size, there's only a need to make them right. To make them the right scene for that place in the manuscript.

So how do you do that?

For starters, the way you designate scenes in manuscripts is with a # sign. No need to get fancy with what you use for scene breaks. Your publisher is just going to replace it with their art (In the Skylar Hoyt series, Revell used a hibiscus for the scene breaks, which made me super happy) so make it easy on them and use the # sign.

So it'll look like this:

This will all be here when I get back, I remind myself. The house, my friends, my date with Evan. It’s just six weeks of helping out, and then I come back to my real life.
As I select skirts and tops from my closet, Mom follows me around the room, reading from a typed list she apparently made last night of things to tell me.

We talked not long ago about transitioning time in manuscripts. One of the ways you designate a time change or a change in what character is talking (POV) is with a scene change.

Every scene should have a goal, a point. I read lots of manuscripts from beginning writers where scenes wander all over the place or where a scene appears to have been tossed in because they felt like it had been too long since we'd heard from this particular character. This is sloppy, lazy writing.

If you're a seat of the pants writer, it's fine if you start writing a scene not being 100% sure about where it's going. But make sure whatever you wind up writing advances the plot or opens up a deeper understanding in your main character. Every scene should have forward motion.

As I write scenes - especially if I get stuck - I ask myself a couple questions. Why are my characters here? What have they come to achieve? What will they have learned by the end of this scene?

Asking these questions is what helps me stir up conflict. If I know what my main character has entered the scene for, then I can devise ways to keep her from getting it. I can put characters in her path who want the opposite thing from the scene, who are going to get in her way.

We'll continue this discussion on Wednesday.

Now, don't forget to turn in your prompts to me by 11:59 tonight. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, click here for details. Also, tomorrow is Shellie Neumeier's last day with us, so click here to read up on Shellie's process for writing a novel and get entered to win a copy of her debut novel Driven.


  1. Kelsey, now you can :) I set up the little button thingies at the bottom. Just for you!

  2. Mrs morrill,
    Did you always want to be a Christian author? Do you ever feel like people look at your work as less because it's Christian?

    Do you make a living as a writer?

  3. Great idea to make a mark at the end of a scene!

    I was looking at the facts on your website yesterday & saw something about a note from Amy Sherman-Palladino on Gilmore Girls stationary!! What is that story? I LOVED Gilmore Girls, still watch re-runs & always wish I could write like that & that well :)

  4. Those are great questions.

    I didn't always want to be a Christian author. I was a writer, and a Christian, but I didn't really know how those intersected. For a while, I thought my stuff might be too edgy for the Christian market. (And according to some critics, it is.) But the doors God started opening were the ones in the Christian market ... so here I am :)

    Do I feel like people look at my work as less? ... so far, I find most people don't care. The literati might, but readers don't seem to, even non-Christian readers, and that's what I care about more.

    And I do make a living as a writer, but not much of one :) We rely on my husband's job for income.

  5. Tonya, lol. Me too! I was obsessed. And I wanted sooooo badly to write for TV. (Dialogue has always come naturally to me ... prose took lots of practice. Still does.) The only show I really wanted to write for, however, was Gilmore Girls. So I found Amy's address at the studio and sent her a query letter saying how much I loved Gilmore Girls, and how I would love the opportunity to write for them, and could I please, please, please send her something for her consideration?

    She wrote back a really nice letter saying she was really glad I connected with the show, but I needed to go through an agent, etc. I was just stunned to receive a personal letter, since I assumed I would receive either nothing or a form letter.

    And even though I'm sure my husband (then fiance) would have moved to L.A. for me, I decided I didn't want to live there. So I went back to writing novels.

  6. That's definitely a keeper. I have a friend who also loves Gilmore Girls & we were talking about it at our college group, this is after the show ended, we were so into it our Pastor's wife came over and said "who are you guys talking about?" haha, we had a lot of debates over Dean vs. Logan. I am team Dean!

    Writing for tv would be a lot of fun. One time a few years ago, was watching a re-run and my grandpa said to me, "you know if you work hard you could write stuff like that one day" & I just sat there thinking what a dream!

  7. Aww, what a great grandpa!

    I'm team Jess. During the final episode - even though I watched for Milo's name during the opening credits and didn't see them - I was really, really hoping they were going to surprise us with him.

    But I'd pick Dean over Logan any day. And although I still think Rory would have said yes to Logan, I'm glad she didn't.

  8. Yeah, my friend and I were talking a few months ago saying lately Jess has gotten kindof hot, haha! That would've been a great twist for him to come back! I heard that there was going to be a spinoff with him but it was to expensive. There's also rumors of a movie, maybe he'll come back then.

  9. Great post. It's easy to add poitless scene put in mainly to show a softer side of the character or something. I tend to want to show the world my character all at once instead of bit by bit as the story progresses.

  10. I meant "pointless." I am a mega lazy typer.

  11. Wonderful post and I'm so glad we can tweet them now! This is packed with helpful and easy to understand information.

  12. Faye, I think that's something we all struggle with to a point. You want the reader to have SOME questions, so they keep reading, but not SO many that they get confused and give up.

    Natasha, I'm so glad it was helpful for you! And major oversight on my part, not making the "tweet" feature available earlier.

  13. Tonya, a Gilmore Girls movie? That would be awesome :) And I knew the Jess spin-off got canceled, but I had no idea why. I assumed it was because he went with Heroes instead.

  14. I'm not sure if a movie is definite, but google it & you'll see the rumors!
    Are you still interested in tv? I know not all shows are shot in LA, a number have been shot in Wilmington NC. Friday night lights is shot in TX

  15. So glad, Nicole!

    Tonya, at this point in my life (read: raising kids) I'm satisfied with where my career is. But it's something I certainly wouldn't mind giving a try one of these years!

  16. This helped me haha. I need to start writing down a semi-plot for each chapter so I know a little bit of where I'm going with this... I lose my ideas sometimes in my big head of mine.

  17. Jazmine, I can't tell you how many times I've finished a chapter (or a whole manuscript) and thought, "Oh, I meant to do this and this and this too." That's what revisions are for :)