The rise and fall of scenes

Arch against the sky

I like to take on board writing advice that makes sense to me but sometimes it can take me a while to see how to apply it to my work. Persevering with this has resulted in some real breakthroughs for me so I do believe it’s worth it. One thing I’m struggling with at the moment is the movement and pacing of scenes. I have realized that I tend to write scenes as a section of time, usually in one place. So it’s a bit like a play – one scene happens in one setting and at one point in time. I find however that this doesn’t make it easy to have a good pacing of action. I have been pondering…

  • Jody Hedlund on “Practical ways to keep your readers hanging from a cliff” (which has a great list of possible cliffhangers). This makes me consider my scenes in terms of them having a beginning, middle and end; a pace of action; a mini-story in themselves. On the other hand, that pacing may not fit in one setting at one point of time. Have I boxed myself in too much?
  • Writer Unboxed’s “Love every word” (“Every scene can and should be a favorite scene–a ‘good part.’ “). I do have some scenes that I love – what’s missing from the other ones? Can I change something?

Maybe I should try writing scenes differently, work on the narrative arc as the basis and not confine it by time and place? Maybe I should stick with my current setting and just craft the narrative better so that it gives a “read on” hook at the end but at the moment this feels quite unnatural sometimes. I’m thinking about submitting some scenes for critique which will place a real demand on them as a standalone piece of work. A good challenge!

I write and learn…perhaps not fast enough!


Using Evernote for novel planning

Image of a colourful elephant

I’m a big Evernote fan, mostly for work. I use it to plan, to take notes in meetings, to store information I need easy access to, to copy emails into – it’s my repository of work knowledge and activity. I have used it to store some creative writing material, mostly articles that I found particularly useful, but never as part of my novel writing process which has mostly involved Google Docs and paper notebooks.

All this changed two weeks ago. As mentioned, I’m at a point of revising a first (and slightly incomplete) draft of my novel. I have been juggling paper notes and printouts and grids of scenes. Time has been particularly precious and I have had to grab odd moments more than ever. So I hit on the idea of using Evernote to pull it all together. This is how:

  • A stack of notebooks – my novel divides into four parts so a notebook for each part
  • A note for each scene: the chapter / scene number at the beginning so I can order them and also something memorable in the note name so I can glance across and know exactly what each scene is.
  • At the moment I have the following info as standard for each scene: Date / Setting / Weather / POV / Goals & plot points / Hooks & intensity / Sensory Detail / Things to Add / Problems to fix (I have drawn on Jodi Hedlund’s scene guide for this – see earlier post on Scenes for more info and link)
  • Each note is then tagged with the characters which are in it and the location
  • Add any files or images for the scene to the note.

This was remarkably quick to set up (I noticed for the first time that I have 13/14 scenes in each part of the novel. I was surprised at such an even balance). I cut and pasted an empty format structure to create new notes, then filled them in one by one. Once done, you can appreciate the beauty of this (in yet more bullet points):

  • Need to work on a character? Use the tag filter to see all the scenes they are in and add to them easily in one place.
  • My standard info is forcing me to dig deep on each scene and make sure I know what I’m doing with it. Having a standard format makes it easy to work on a scene in a focussed way, even if I can only grab a quick few minutes to work on the novel.
  • As I think of odd things to add or change, I can bring up the scene and make my notes. The next stage will be to print out each scene note and use it as I rewrite. Everything in one place.
  • I have access to this anywhere via laptop, iPad or phone. I find I can add short notes even on my phone using the Evernote android app.
  • Evernote is good at cross searching all your notes so I can locate things that way if tags are not enough.

The one thing annoying me is that Evernote’s ordering by title doesn’t let me get my scenes in order e.g. C10-1 comes before C8-1 but that’s probably asking for an unreasonably psychic elephant!

Writing Scenes

Image by Pterjan on Flickr reused under Creative Commons (Thanks!)

Image by Pterjan on Flickr reused under Creative Commons (Thanks!)

I found it hugely useful this week to read Jody Hedlund’s blog post on writing scenes. I’m at the stage where I have a draft which is not yet a first draft but is inching towards that status. I try to write a first version and not worry about it being imperfect but this then means stage two of redrafting, rejigging and rewriting. I’m trying to assess what my work in progress scene by scene so, as well as working on the details of the writing, I’m also taking a step back and looking at the scene as a whole. The ultimate goal is to have each one as an action-packed emotionally-charged, entertaining brick of fun that builds up a whole novel. Not asking too much then….

I have some pointers of my own that I would add to Jody’s list:
  • Is it fun and funny and moving? This is appropriate for my current WIP but will change depending on genre.
  • Does it read like writing? I know when my prose sinks, sloppy sentences, incomplete rhythm…all these need to be weeded out.
  • Where is the emotional impact of the scene? I try to make sure it is well signposted and written for maximum effect. Details of setting or character can contribute unobtrusively too.
  • Can I show not tell? Check for patches of telling and check there isn’t a better way.
  • Do my characters make the most of their time centre stage? What can I add to reveal more depth in passing? Deepen relationships?
  • Are there any symbols? I loved the section in this book about symbols (or “sacred objects” as they call them) that recur through a novel. So it’s worth checking they are being presented in a meaningful – although possibly unobtrusive) way in any scene where they occur.
I work in a combination of digital and paper scribbles but for this I found it handy to have a sheet to hand for each scene. I may spend some time reading and making notes before I go back and start rewriting.
If anyone else has any tips to share for this stage of writing I’d be very glad to hear them! It’s not quite editing and it’s not building from scratch…just all part of the polishing process.