On Outlining & Writing Scenes

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & koalazymonkey.

One of the first things I learned after I start writing (seriously, anyway) was to manage the scenes within my writing. The advice I’ve received from professors, classmates and other writers is to make an outline of scenes and only scenes. If you use that outline the right way, it proves to be pretty invaluable. My favorite way to do this is to write each scene (or anticipated scene) on an index card. While writing, you can shuffle these cards around and figure out where each scene fits the best.

Last semester, one of the required books for my novel writing course was Sol Stein‘s “How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them.” He knows what he’s talking about. I recommend picking up the book if you’re looking for help.

Stein also recommends the index card/outline method when in a predicament with your scenes. He poses questions to consider when revising scenes, all of which are extremely helpful. According to hi, writers should ask themselves the following questions when revising/re-thinking scenes:

  • Which character in the scene do you have the most affection for? How can you make the reader feel affection or compassion for that character in this scene?
  • Is there a character in the scene who threatens the protagonist subtly or openly, psychologically or physically?
  • Is the point of view of the scene that of the character who is most affected by what happens in the scene?
  • Is the scene described in terms of the action that takes place?
  • Is each scene visible throughout so that the reader can see what’s happening before his eyes?
  • Does the ending thrust the reader into the next scene? Does the reader long to find out what happens next?

Examining each scene takes a while, yes, but doing so is also one of the most solid steps in the right direction. You’re finding the right arrangement for your scenes, continually building from one to the next and tossing your readers into them. This is one of the major goals, in my opinion—keeping readers interested.

[Do you use the index card method when planning scenes in your writing? Is it keeping you organized? Let me know how it works for you.]

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