Sometimes, when I sit down to write a scene, everything clicks. Even the weird twists and diversions that come up while I’m writing flow and mesh. When that happens, it’s awesome.
Then there are the other times. Times when I think I know what I want to write, but get lost trying to put it into words. The scene gets longer and longer, but doesn’t actually go anywhere. I just wind up writing the next thing that would logically happen, and that gets boring–fast. (And if it’s boring for me to write, it’s got to be deadly for someone else to read.) It’s like getting my car stuck in a snow bank. I can step on the gas and spin the tires all day, but the car’s not going to budge.
But after reading The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne and The Scene Book by Sandra Scofield, I came up with a list of questions to run through when I find myself spinning my wheels on a scene. It seems to be helping, so I thought I’d share.
- Who is the POV character in the scene?
- What is the POV character’s goal? The POV character needs to by trying to accomplish something in the scene. It could be as simple as going to the grocery store before the roads become treacherous, or as involved as sneaking into the bad guy’s office and stealing the classified report.
- Who (or what) is the POV character’s major opposition in the scene? Without opposition there is no conflict, and if there’s no conflict in the scene, my subconscious will balk as I try to write it. The opposition could be anyone with a different agenda: a bad guy, the love interest, a friend or even the environment.
- What is the opposition’s goal? Obviously, if the opposition is the environment or something else without consciousness, I can give myself a pass on this one. (But the opposition still needs to muck up the protagonist’s plan.)
- How do things go down the toilet as the scene unfolds? The POV character has a goal and a plan at the beginning of the scene, but as he/she acts, other characters also act and react and things go sideways.
- What pivotal choice/decision does the POV character make during the scene? As the situation changes, the POV character has to make choices, and those choices have consequences. (Choosing to not act is also making a choice.)
- What is the scene’s climax?
- What is the situation at the end of the scene? Has the protagonist gained a tiny insight or honed a skill? Did a friend get hurt? Did the POV character achieve the goal at the cost of some skin, or did he/she wind up stuck in a snow bank without a coat or a shovel?
- How does the scene move the story forward? If the scene is not a crucial link in the chain of the story’s plot, setting things up for the next scene, it’s not adding to the story but detracting from it instead.
I don’t go through these questions for every scene, only the the stubborn ones that don’t flow naturally. When I do use it, most of the points are no brainers, but some of them–especially the plot and goal questions–really help me focus.