Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Fiction Writers Lifesaver: Scene Progress List

by Connie Flynn     
Every time I write a book, the experience is different. I'm always trying to find a structure to rely on for all time. One that gets me primed to write a rousing start that grabs my reader by the collar and glues the nose to the page. (OK, that was a bit manic but you know what I mean.) What's more. I want a structure that guarantees each chapter I write will have the same zip as the opener.

Delusional, that's what I am, but I have come up with a few systems that actually work most of the time. One of my favorites is the scene progress list.

This is something you compose after you're done writing for the day. As you may have guessed, It's a running list of the scenes  you write. This is not the same as an outline or list of scenes you are planning to write--which we all know are valuable--but a record of what you have already written. You will probably compile and maintain this list on the computer, but you might also want to print it out periodically so you can make notes on it as you're moving through your book.

These are the elements an effective scene list must include:
  • Identify the point of view character.
  • The beginning & ending page numbers of the scene.
  • Identify the scene goal (both yours as the writer and the character's)
  • Make note of the progress toward the goal.
  • Record other major character's in the scene.
  • Identify the character's state of mind at the end of the scene (story movement).
These are elements you may want to add:
  • Whether the scene is an action scene or whether it's summary.
  • What the character is wearing.
  • Location.
  • Complications that might arise from scene event.
  • Loose ends that must be tied up later.
  • How you, the author, feel about the scene.
Include anything else you think is important, but keep it short. There’s no need to include all items in every entry. Just use the key events..  Don’t make the notes elaborate or worry about writing the entries well. They are just for your use as a quick reference guide to where you've been.

This list will be used in several ways, the most obvious one is that you’ll no longer have to thumb through your entire manuscript in search of small but important details that have slipped your mind.

When you reach the revision part of your novel, a quick tour through your list will immediately alert you to repetitive scenes and to scenes you didn't feel good about from the beginning.  You'll be reminded that Carolyn left her sweater at Mark's and it must be mentioned later. Notes of unfinished character goals and on character/reader concerns will help you stay focused on what's important to get on the page. And one of the most helpful notes is the one on how you feel about the scene. It not only  helps you gain confidence in your instincts about your daily writing quality, it lets you relax while you write ther first draft, confident you won't forget that those weak scenes need revising.

And, worth mentioning for sure, is that the list gives you a record of what you've accomplished. Your novel is a long project and it's easy to forget where you've been when you take a look at how far you still have to go. Reviewing your past progress can give you a much needed reward that lets you push through a sloggy part of your book.

I have other tools. The pre-list, for instance, where you list what things you will include in your scene just before you write it and the notebook, where you keep all your research and story doodles. But the scene list is enough for one day.

What about you?  Do you follow some structures or rituals that ease your journey?  Would other writers benefit by knowing them? If so, I invite you to share.

In the meantime, remember we live in interesting times.  Till later,

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1 comment:

Mary Tate Engels said...

Connie, thanks for these Scene Lifesavers. I'm going to keep this list near my computer so I don't let them slip away.