It usually begins with the blue-print -- an idea and/or outline. Soon, the foundation is laid and the roofing is installed. Finally, the house comes together by giving careful attention to each room in the house.
It is only through the process of creating and decorating each individual room does a house begin to form.
Same with writing a book.
If we want to write a story that is impactful, then we need to give careful attention to the formation of each scene.
When I was a beginning writer, I wrote without a plan. And because of that, many of my scenes were directionless. They didn't push the story forward.
Now, however, I make sure to at least have a "framework" before I begin to construct.
I ask myself: If this were a film, would this scene be listed as one of the "deleted scenes" on the DVD's bonus features, or would the story unravel if it were left out?
As I begin to lay out the foundation of a scene, I go through the following checklist (most of which came from My Book Therapy's teachings):
→ 1. POV
Whose point of view will the scene unfold through? Establish this before writing the scene, then make sure it is evident to the reader right away.
Why is this important? Because everything you write in a scene -- description, internal monologue, body language, etc. -- will be filtered through the POV character's personality, voice, attitude, and worldview.
→ 2. 5 + 5 + 1
Who knew writing involved math? Don't worry, this isn't too bad!
If you want to breathe life into a scene even before you write it, and if you'd like to have direction as you write, then I highly suggest using this "formula" (created by My Book Therapy):
5 = Five senses:
Enter the scene before you write it. Then ask yourself: What can you hear? See? Smell? Taste? Feel? Weaving in the five senses grounds your reader in the scene so they feel as if the story is happening to them.
Not only does this checklist remind you to incorporate the senses, but it also breathes life into the storyworld and allows you to slip into the character's shoes even before you write through his/her viewpoint.
5 = WWWWW
Answer the questions: Who, What, When, Where, and Why? Then, make sure the answers to these questions are evident early in the scene.
1 = Emotion
What is the one emotion you want to convey? Everything you write -- the dialogue, figurative language, verbs, nouns, body language, etc. -- will stem from this one hue of emotion.
→ 3. Hook and cliff-hanger
When I read, I love the feeling of anticipating the next scene and being on the edge of my seat, itching to find out what happens next.
That's the kind of feeling I want my readers to experience every time they read my book.
Before I write a scene, I plan how to begin it in a way that grabs the reader. Then, I'll brainstorm how it will end in a way that leaves them wanting more.
Face it: Readers these days are accustomed to watching movies, television, 3-minute YouTube videos, etc. If we don't grab the reader immediately, and if we don't give them a reason to keep reading, then the they're going to find another way to spend their free time.
You know how TV shows usually end with suspense before a commercial break? That's what we, as writers, should aim to accomplish at the end of our scenes as well. I don't want to make it easy for a reader to put my book down. Instead, I want to leave them eager to find out what happens next.
In action scenes, the protagonist is striving towards a specific goal. In the reaction scenes, the character is reflecting about what happened, then makes a new decision which will influence the following action scene.
During the "action" scene, the protagonist's goal should stem from their overall external/internal goal of the book. The obstacles they face along their journey will create the meat of the scene, as discussed in the next point.
→ 5. Tension/conflict
As a beginning writer, incorporating conflict into my scenes was difficult. I quickly learned, however, that if I wanted to write books that were compelling, then I needed to give the reader a reason to root for my protagonist. Otherwise, they would care less about what happens and have no reason to keep reading.
This tension is created when roadblocks arise along the protagonist's path towards his/her goal. It can't be random conflict, either -- instead, it should relate to the character's overall story goal (external/internal).
What can you throw in my main character's path that will prevent him/her from achieving their Story Goal? (This is when the antagonist comes in handy.)
~ ~ ~
Even if you're a panster (a writer who writes without a plan), I still advise to establish the purpose of a scene by asking yourself: Does this scene push the story forward? Does it relate to the overall plot? Then, once it's written, you can go back and make sure the above foundation is in tact.
I save myself a lot of grief when I prepare the framework of a scene before writing it. Trust me, this method works. And if we, as writers, learn how to create scenes that play out like a movie, then our readers will have no choice but to keep following the main character's journey -- all the way until the very last page.
Do you establish a framework for your scene before you write it? Any tips you'd like to add? Share below!