Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Scene Selection


When we play a favorite movie on our DVD players, we're able select scenes. We recognize our favorites, the ones we watch over and over again, and those we're content to skip over. Don't care about that Pride and Prejudice scene with Mr. Collins? Select the wet shirt scene with Mr. Darcy instead. *sigh*

Even in our own work, we have our favorite scenes. For some, it's the opening, or the climatic action scene. For me, it's usually the first kiss. But our favorites probably don't start out that way. At least mine don't. We shape them.

We've all heard that scenes are the building blocks of a story, and that each scene must matter. One of the many valuable lessons I learned from Jody Hedlund was to write in scenes. But we don't want to write scenes that, if in movie form, the viewer would skip over.

We each have our own process, but here's how I evaluate scenes in revision:

  • Make sure the scene belongs there in the first place. I'm a plotter, and I use index cards. For me, this works because before I begin the story, I've written my scenes on cards. I lay them out on a large surface and switch them around. Heck, even when I'm writing the story I still switch them around or toss them aside. For more details about my love affair with index cards, click here.
I have two master cards sitting on top of the stack, which serve as reminders of what I need to accomplish. 

The first card says:
  1. Conflict?
  2. Purpose of scene?
  3. Could this scene be deleted? Condensed? Merged with another scene?
The other card says:
  1. Clear character goal? Focused on the next step?
  2. With the goal comes a question: will the character succeed?
  3. Are new questions introduced?
When writing the first draft, I don't look back. If I have ideas on previously written material, I'll take notes and refer to them later. During the second pass, I'm reading just to see what I have. By the third pass, I evaluate each scene and perform surgery. I'll also refer to all those revision notes, and add or take away based on the new vision. I'll keep an eye on consistency and follow through. (Check out Janice Hardy's great post, Be Your Own Book Doctor)

Hopefully, by the end of this process, I've created scenes that my story can't live without. Then I can flesh them out, add fleas, and keep the wet shirt and ditch the Mr. Collins.


(I know, I know, he's important to the story. But still, he grosses me out!)


What's your process for evaluating scenes? How do you make sure you keep what matters and ditch what doesn't? Any tips you'd like to share?

24 comments:

  1. Wow! You have a complicated process! How do you know all the scenes you want to write before you start? I start out w/ 7 plot points, and then I keep a separate document to note changes/fixes for later. But once I'm far enough into the ms then I will write out a list of scenes left to write.

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    1. Beth, the 7 plot points is a great process! I love to hear how other writers get the job done.

      How do I know what scenes I want to write? I usually read Plot & Structure before I begin each book. This gives me ideas of what I need to do and when, and I jot down notes as I go :)

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  2. You're way more organized and analytical about it than I am. I do outline, though, and use about 70 points or ideas for scenes in order. And then of course I flesh it out and add other scenes as I go along. I also keep a chapter by chapter style sheet as I go along that helps me with the editing at the end.

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    1. Gwen, I like the chapter by chapter style sheet idea. I need to do something like that.

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  3. I like the master cards idea. I usually just focus on purpose.

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    1. Purpose...that's a great start. I refer to the master cards because sometimes I get carried away and forget why I'm writing a certain scene :/

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  4. I like the scene in The Two Towers where Aragon comes into the keep after they thought he was dead... the responses of Eowin, Legolas and Gimly are all sublime...

    I like your notes to check--in fact I just emailed them to myself... I have need to improve my editing and I hope these might help...

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    1. Thanks, Hart! I'm always looking to improve my editing as well :)

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  5. OMGosh! Was he not the most perfect Darcy or what! I love what your first card says. Perfect, concise, and necessary.

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    1. Sheri, he will always be THE Darcy for me!

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  6. It's always interesting to read about how the writing process of other writers, because I always end up learning something. One thing that helps me is going through each draft with a pen and crossing out what is repetitive or irrelevant, because it's easier to see those things the second (or third, or fourth) time around.
    Even though I LOVE Mr. Darcy (and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy), some of my favorite scenes from that Pride and Prejudice movies were the ones with Mr. Collins. The actor who played that character did a great job; he was so funny.

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    1. So, so true. He is funny and entertaining, in a gross, quirky way. So it sounds like you print a copy and then mark it up? James Scott Bell highly recommends doing that!

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  7. Great post, Julie! This is similar to the technique I bastardized from Cheryl Klein's workshop on bookmapping. I do main emotion, goals for every character in the scene and try to make them conflict, an outcome for the main character -- fail, fail and furthermore, succeed but -- and the change in the story that results from that scene. That's the critical thing for me in determining if the scene is vital. If the emotion didn't change and something significant didn't change in the story, the scene needs to go. I love that you keep the points on index cards. I'm going to have to remember that trick. :)

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    1. You know, I need to remember the conflicting goals part! Thanks for the reminder :)

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  8. I usually use post-its. Lol. I sketch the scenes out and then have another small spiral notebook that I add notes to as I go along, and I have a bigger "bible" of the book to make sure everything meshes and I don't end up with the wrong clothes from scene to scene or the eye color changes etc.

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    1. I've heard of people using post its! Then you can re-stick them however you want. Cool!

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  9. This is excellent. I just cut your card content, pasted on a document and printed. Now... it sits in front of my computer. I'm editing. These are excellent reminders!!!

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    1. Karlene, I have the shortest attention span possible. I have to always remind myself of these little nuggets.

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  10. It always sounds so cumbersome, but it's the best way to work!! And it's fun when you get into it.

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    1. And super fun when we get it right :)

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  11. Love this Julie! I've been writing for a few years now and finally feel as if I'm starting to be able to do this with a bit of competence. I hope!

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  12. Oh, you are so organized! Sounds like you have a great method. :)

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  13. I've just gone over to index card land and I'm loving it. I always start with the Joseph Campbell hero journey and then tweak it into the Save the Cat beats. It's been very educational to write conflict and character change for each scene. And thanks for the Darcy pic. It never gets old.

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  14. Don't you just love it when you're writing a scene and it's working even better than you imagined? I almost hate to come to the end of those. Loved your post and it's right on. Except I can't use index cards. There's something in my head that rejects them. Send help!

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