Friday, February 11, 2011

Before You Start A Scene...

At the end of January I made a quick list of the weapons I gather prior to starting a first draft. Today the focus is on scenes, because the plotter on me could not dive in without some preparation, at least.

Before I start that blog post (ah!), however, I'd like to point out that I am guest-posting on Tahereh Mafi's most awesome blog today. It's an incredible honour, and you should check it out! Especially since I rarely do 'funny' posts around here.

Now, to business! What do I need to know before I start a scene?

1) What is the conflict here?
Conflict is the driving strength behind a scene. Don't start before you know what your POV wants in this scene, and what stops him from getting it.

2) Who is your POV? Why?
I've blogged about the difficulties of choosing POVs in the past. Look for characters with high stakes, whether physical or emotional. Know your POV and know why he is the one narrating (even with a single POV story, you want to examine what your character brings to a scene that is unique).

3) How does this scene reflect the world?
I might care for this one a lot because I love worldbuilding, and enjoy watching details translate the world I created. Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile considerations even if your setting's a midwest town in the US. Every setting is unique. Not every scene will show it, but the more, the better!

4) Do you have HIP?
HIP in your scene is a concept taken from J.S. Bell's Plot and Structure book. In short: hook-intensity-prompt. Intensity is harder to think of in advance (it goes with conflict), but I like to have an idea of Hook and Prompt before I start.

5) What is the mission of this scene?
This one is from Larry Brooks, at storyfix. In a recent post he gave a small but solid advice: every scene should have a succint mission. (his words, not mine). What is the point of your scene? How does it move the novel forward? This is a great post to read, by the way.

So these are my basics. Also, wow, so many links!

If you are a Super-Plotter, I recommend you check out Margo's (from Urban Psychopomp) scene-building template. Tons of possible questions to ask yourself there!

Is there anything you think I missed? What do you always have at the ready before you start?


  1. Hi Claudie,

    Saw and loved your guest post on Tahereh's blog. Mine was featured a few days ago, on Point of View.
    I love your tips here for starting a scene, but, sadly, I am a complete panster. I need to work on my scene-building a lot, so I will definitely be visiting you for more advice!

  2. I loved your guest post. :-)

    Like Jen, I am also a complete pantser. I don't even plot what I want for dinner.


  3. I saw you over at Tahereh's blog! You were great!

    Margo's level of planning makes me hyperventilate. I would never start writing, I don't think. I'm sort of a...jump in, wade about a bit, and then start doing a little planning. Kind of backwards, but if I do a lot of planning up front I won't stop planning. I become crazed! Often the outline I do create tends to get updated constantly and organically. I'm not great at following it when something else feels better.

  4. AAH! But Misha, dinner should be planned and prerapred with cared and --- wait, no, I'm like you on that side. XD

    Jen: When I pantsed I end up all over the place. It's FUN, but I always have some much work after. My plotting is like a bunch of guidelines. I read them before I write and then I jump in.

    Sommer: I approve of the backwards technique! On a large scale, it's what I did with this novel. And yep, on my best days the outline gets updated. On those I'm not inspired, I can stick to it and keep going. :)

  5. "Margo's level of planning makes me hyperventilate."

    LOL. I love it. But I don't think there is anything wrong with mixing the planning with the doing. Someone over at Nathan's forum (gosh, can't recall who) was saying they do a little bit of planning, write a whole draft, then go back and do a more thorough outline to help guide the revisions. I thought that was a great idea. Might give that one a try myself.

  6. Nice guest post over on T.H. Mafi's blog. You are full of fantastic advice when it comes to writing.

  7. Circling between a complete draft and outlining sounds like a sound strategy. It's not too far from what I've been doing, although my 'revisions' are more like a complete rewrite.

    And thanks for the nice comments, everyone. The guest post was a blast to write. :)