The 7 Secrets of Writing Scene By Scene

Posted by : E.v.R. | On : November 10, 2006

  1. Make It Managable. Instead of worrying yourself sick over one giant blob of narrative, you can instead worry yourself sick over scene 15, or scene 24. Your story becomes managable.
  2. The Bad Things Are Small. If you write something terrible, you don’t have to feel bad. A large pain becomes a small pain. A bad bit of writing is only one scene. It doesn’t mean your whole story is bad.
  3. Templates of Greatness. If you write something great, you know that scene can serve as a model for others. It’s a ‘template for greatness’ that you can duplicate across your story. If one of your scenes works really well because it has a strong beginning, middle, and end, and it has a main point of conflict then you’ll intuitively know that you should transfer that same framework to your other scenes in order to make them better.
  4. Wordcounts Are Easy! A scene is usually 1-3 pages in Hollywood parlance. For a novel, it can certainly be longer. But identifying a page count per scene is helpful. One page is about 400-500 words. This makes your typical ‘Hollywood sized’ scene anywhere from 400 to 1700 words, a managable daily goal for anyone. “A scene per day.” is one of my writing mottos. Maybe it will work for you too!
  5. Dramatic Units Are Everything. Make progress on your story happen in dramatic units. If you’ve completed a scene, you can say “I completed a scene! Jimmy had a fight with Sarah in the lobby of the hotel, and now they hate each other! See, I got something quantifiable done!” Instead of just saying, “I wrote a little bit, but I don’t know how little or how much that is in the grand scheme of things. What am I doing?” Scene completion is simple feedback for the writing process–results delivered.
  6. Love The Rewrite. Yes, I said love. We all hate them but did you know it was possible to like them, or even love them? It’s easier to rewrite a bad scene here and there, one at a time, than to look at your story as one big endless train track and say “This is trash. What should I do?” Okay I admit maybe this won’t make you love rewriting, but it’ll certainly make it less of a headache!
  7. Structure Without Even Trying. Some people aren’t big on plotting or planning. That’s fine. Without any plotting, organizing, or planning, writing scene by scene will mean your story will be naturally more organized, better structured. Your story slices can be thick, or they can be thin, it’s up to you. Maybe you like short scenes, maybe you prefer long ones? Maybe it depends on what drama you’re trying to convey, and how much time it needs to develop. The simple fact is working scene by scene brings these pacing issues into focus. And every writer, and I mean every writer including the greats, could improve the pacing of their stories.

Writing scene by scene allows you to focus on the quality of those dramatic units, instead of the giant blob called “My Novel” or “My Screenplay.” You can’t make a novel good all at once. You can’t rewrite it all at once. You can’t improve it all at once. Everything happens in baby steps, so by figuring out what those baby steps will be, you increase your chances of success for completing your work, and delivering a quality story.

Break your story into scenes today!

Comments (4)

  1. KG said on 12-11-2006

    #6 represents a great paradigm shift for most of us. Rewrites are where first drafts can possibly become great.

    Your “baby steps” point is a great writing mantra, for every aspect of writing. I agree that one really has to focus on the process of it — patiently, bit by bit — in order to get there. Going step by step is the only way to get anywhere.

    Very sound advice.

  2. Eric said on 12-11-2006

    Kristin, that’s a good way of looking at it. You can learn to love the rewrite not because it represents a lot of gut-wrenching work, but because you rest assured that’s where the novel can go from bad to good, or good to great. And ideally that should be an invigorating process in itself. I find the first drafting to be much more grueling. It’s like paving a road with poor, unrefined materials. The road will be bumpy, and ugly… and is only in that 2nd pass with a steamroller will it be pressed into something smooth.

    To me, it’s the trailblazing that’s the harder of the work. Coming back later to look at the handiwork? Well ok, that can be scary too, but you’re dealing with the known rather than the unknown. So I guess it all depends on whether that familiarity tickles or horrifies you.

  3. […] Tonight as I was working on a new scene, I got to thinking about this story folder full of scene docs, and I realized that it was starting to get difficult to manage. Yes, I could just have everything all in one text file but then that defeats the purpose of breaking things out into chunks. I’m all about this modularity scene-by-scene groove these days, the only problem being it makes a new task out of organizing the modules. Then I remembered yWriter. “Oh yeah,” I thought. “That tool I already have and was already toying around with a few times here and there is something perfect for my NaNo story.” […]

  4. […] 2006 revelation was 7 Secrets of Writing Scene by Scene. That was a huge one for me, as the blindly-draft-hundreds-of-pages method has never been anything […]