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:
- Purpose of scene?
- Could this scene be deleted? Condensed? Merged with another scene?
The other card says:
- Clear character goal? Focused on the next step?
- With the goal comes a question: will the character succeed?
- 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?