Scene Execution (Story Engineering and Physics #5 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsWhen showing a first-time guest around your home, the logical manner is to move from room to room, pointing out only the most interesting or meaningful details, sometimes just one thing in each room.

Novels are built, not from words, sentences, or paragraphs, but from scenes.

What is a Scene?

Each scene

  • happens in one physical location
  • in one time period
  • from a single point of view

New location? New scene. Time jump? New scene. Switch from Tom’s perspective at the bottom of the cliff to Alice’s at the top? New scene. (Though if we’re with Tom at the bottom and Alice simply calls out to him or interacts with him, we’re still in Tom’s perspective.)

The Scene’s Purpose

Every scene should deliver one single bit of information which moves the story forward. It might be factual information: Mike drinks too much. It might be emotional information: Lisa is strong-willed. It might be a significant plot point, backstory, or character, but it is never trivial, never just scenery. Scenes are not scenery.

If you’re making the transition from pure pantser to partial plotter, once you’ve written your 12 sentences, the next step might be to write out the scenes for your book. I’m working out 60 scenes for my next book, anodyne. I tend to write 1,000-word scenes, so my average 60,000-word mystery will have 60 of ’em, at least in the planning stages. (Actual numbers run from 55 to 76 so far.)

The biggest challenge I faced writing Into the Fog was taking the right amount of time getting from each of the 12 waypoints to the next. Time was too compressed, in most cases. I’m finding the same challenge with anodyne: the pacing is off. I’m reworking it, creating scene cards so I can monitor time, pacing, exposition, and keep the tension and excitement right where they should be.

Writing scene cards, a brief description of each scene including where it is, who’s present, and the single bit of information to be delivered, makes it much easier to write like the wind through all 60,000 words.

Hey, a guy can dream.

If you enjoy the posts in this series, please do me a favor and buy Larry’s books. This blog is free, of course, but I couldn’t be teaching you these things without Larry’s writing and blog. The $25 it will cost you to buy the books will be more than repaid by the information you get from them.

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