Scene Check, Part I

What’s your approach to writing scenes? Do you wing it or plan the event?

While putting two antagonistic characters face-to-face to see what they’ll do about it can be intriguing in the context of “let’s see what they’ll do next,” such a haphazard method tends to derail writers quickly. Write enough aimless, free-wheeling scenes, and soon your characters will have skipped to Paris when you intended them to stay in Kansas. And while Paris may sound more alluring than Kansas–depending on what your story is about–it’s unlikely to have much connection to your original concept. Which means if you then change the primary location to France, you’ll have to alter your manuscript completely. And once you’ve done that, there’s no guarantee that your fickle characters won’t scamper off to Iceland next, necessitating another hasty rewrite.

Apart from setting challenges, such a story will become about as cohesive as a skein of yarn after kittens have played with it.

However, let’s say you intend to keep a firm grip on the locale. Even so, if you don’t plan your scenes, you’ll soon fall down a plot hole or find yourself stuck in a corner.

Because I recommend that scenes be planned ahead of time, I’m sharing a checklist that I’ve modified from the old journalism schematic of who, what, when, where, why, and how:

WHO
-Who will be present?
-Who will take an active part in the conflict?
-Who will serve as the scene’s viewpoint character?

WHAT
-What is the protagonist’s objective?
-What is the protagonist’s motivation?
-What’s at stake?
-What will the protagonist attempt to achieve the objective?
-What will the antagonist do to counter it?

WHEN
-When (in story time) will the scene occur?
-When will the scene’s outcome affect a later event?
-When will the antagonist shift tactics?
-When will disaster strike the protagonist?

WHERE
-Where is the scene taking place?
-Where will the scene start?
-Where will the scene end?

WHY
-Why is this event important to your story?
-Why is the antagonist in opposition to your scene’s protagonist?
-Why is the protagonist willing to fight or argue for the objective?
-Why won’t the protagonist quit?

HOW
-How long will the scene be?
-How much conflict will you include?
-How can you lengthen the scene for better impact?
-How can you include a plot twist?
-How can this scene make things worse for my protagonist?

My next post will elaborate on the “Who” of scenes.

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