Monday, November 16, 2009

Constructing scenes

Current Project: Derby book
Status: First draft

I have a question for you all - how do you come up with your scenes? Do you plot major points of the book and brainstorm what it takes to get you there? Do you write a scene at a time and think to yourself, how would my character react, then write the next scene off of that reaction?

I used to be a full-fledged plotter. I would brainstorm the major points of the book, then come up with the scenes to take me to that point. I've talked about it some here already, but that clearly hasn't been working for me. The plot only takes me so far, then I realize my characters fall flat because I didn't develop them enough.

So now I've made a point of focusing on characters. I'm not forgetting the plot by any means, I know the main points and where I want it to go, just not scene by scene. I thought I'd try allowing my characters and their actions and reactions to take me from scene to scene.

That's tough!

I'm having a heck of a time coming up with scene ideas. The amazing and wonderful Eli helped me brainstorm some plotting things late last week that has helped make the conflict stronger and more interesting throughout the book. I've been able to think of scenes for the next couple of chapters so I'm working on writing those, then I'll see what I can come up with next. But I could really use your ideas on how you come up with your scenes. Do you ask yourself a certain question? Post an issue? Or they just come to you?

Thanks for the tips! On an unrelated note, I'm trying to pick a roller derby name. I made a poll - if you have an opinion on any of them (or ideas for another one), I'd love your vote! I tried to think of a spoof on a famous romance author that the general public would know, like Nora Roberts, but couldn't think of anything. If you have other ideas, please leave them in the comments! Grazie!


Elisabeth Naughton said...

I'm sure we're all different in how we put a book together.

I write linearly, beginning to end. I rarely write out of order and when I do it REALLY bugs me. For example, I had a scene in the wip I skipped that I needed to put back in. It was a secondary plot scene, not majorly important until the tie in at the end of the book (which I'm not to yet). And even though it was something I could go back and slip it, I couldn't focus on what was about to happen next until I went back and added that scene. This is where my OCD tendencies tend to spring forward. LOL

As for specific scenes though, because I write linearly, I know the major plot points I have to hit from beginning to end, but I don't always know the scenes. When I start a book, I know the set up through the first turning point and I know the scenes that need to happen to get there. Then I usually stop, reread what I wrote and think about what has to happen next. Scenes pop into my head that way. Since I tend to write at night, I can spend all day thinking about what's going to happen next so that when I sit down to work at night, I can simply start writing and not spend hours staring at a blinking cursor.

I kinda think of my system as "plotting into the mist". It's like standing on the top of a mountain looking down at a river vs. traveling in a boat ON the river. I can see the major turns in the stream, but not always the eddies and current shifts and tree roots and waterfalls along the way until I'm almost on top of them. Does that make sense?

Lisa Leoni said...

I have a hard time writing out of order too. It always feels so disjointed. Good analogy! :) Thanks for explaining your process. It certainly seems to work well for you!

Paty Jager said...

Lisa, I meant to comment after I saw Eli's comment and then I got back into my writing nightmare and forgot!

Like Eli I write linearly. That's not to say if a scene idea comes to me I don't jot down the dialog or the idea and tuck it away, but when I write the book I start at the beginning and write to the end.

I'm not a plotter in the sense I sit down and figure out each scene before I write. I start with my beginning scene, know a couple scenes in between and the end, which sometimes changes through the course of the story.

I flow from one scene to the next without thought as to the action reaction. I just know this happened and this is what happens next because of it. And that all happens as I write. I don't plan anything out ahead of time, other than where I'm going.

Now, Friday I wrote myself into a wall, and spent most of the morning going back rereading and figuring out how to break a hole in the wall to keep the story going for another 8,000 words. It took me until about 1pm today to figure it out and now, I'm coasting again.

This is one of those days when I wonder if having an outline would be a good idea! LOL

I don't know if that's much help but that's how I do things.

Alice Sharpe said...

I'm another one that knows where I'm starting and where I'm going and that's about it. I can't stand writing out or order either and NEVER do it. There are always pivotal scenes, usually dialogue, that will be tweaked a million times to help shape where the book will ultimately go. Sometimes when I'm writing one of them, I'm aware that it will have to be revisited and sure enough, I go back to it dozens of times to reflect information I didn't know at the time I wrote it.

I guess I don't tend to think of actions and reactions and dark moments and all the rest. Why my books work (if they do work) is something of a mystery to me and I guess that's the way it's supposed to be.

And Paty, I write myself into a wall several times in each book. I expect it now. When it happens, I'm dead in the water as I think and hatch plots and tear out my hair, and eventually a little light begins to show and the next thing you know, I'm off again. I wish there was a less painful way of doing it but I don't know what it is.

Fin blog, Lisa, and I cast my vote!

Katie Hakes said...

I write out of order, but that's on rare occasions. XD *guilty grin* My writing process is a lot like yours, Lisa, with all the plot points worked out. However, not always is there enough conflict for my characters to get there. I fixed that with my current story, though, because I finally have enough conflict! Yay! I rarely know what the next scene will be, but I know my characters well enough to figure out what happens to reach those plot points.

Good luck with your scenes! And also your derby name. I just thought of a silly one. It's not very intimidating, but what the heck: Leoni Baloni (bad spelling of bologna, hee hee).

Genene Valleau said...

Hey, Lisa!

By now, everyone knows I'm a plotter, but I'm not a linear plotter or writer. I'm going to toss out some of the things I do (though it changes a bit with each story) and, of course, use them or mutate them or discard them as works for you.

I know what each character is like at the beginning and where they will be at the end after they grow and change. Same with the basic plot and usually a subplot or two.

Now comes my mathematical formula--don't worry, I'm not a mathematical genius, so it's a simple one. I figure out how long the book will be--usually about 75,000 words or 300 pages for me. Since my chapters are about 20 pages long, that gives me 15 chapters. I figure one change per chapter for each main character as well as one change in the plot. Then I use my "Steps to Happily Ever After" worksheet to brainstorm 15 changes each main character and the plot to move them to the ending.

Since I have about three scenes per chapter, one change for the hero, one for the heroine, and one for the main plot pretty much fill up each chapter.

One suggestion I use if I run short on scenes is to think of all the places there might be action in my story--besides the bedroom. :) For your roller derby book, that could be at practice, at a meet (is that what they are called?), at a place the derby girls might hang out (a bar, a restaurant, a gym???), etc. You could do the same for where the hero might be. Then brainstorm what the two of them and/or the secondary characters could be doing in those places.

If scenes come to me, I jot them down; sometimes in great detail if that's how they occur to me or sometimes just a few sentences to remind me what needs to happen. Depending on where I am in the process, they either go in my idea box or on my scene sheets or write into the manuscript as I'm writing. At some point, I put them in order of how they should happen. That's where my detailed scene sheets come in.

I know my characters pretty well by now, but if they aren't talking about something, I'll interview them or ask them what they dreamed about last night or if they have a recurring dream. That can be very telling.

When I start writing, I write in layers. There may be big gaping holes in the first draft with only a few words or sentences of what needs to happen. Or sometimes the characters will take me down a different and interesting pathway, so I jot notes quickly and hang on for the ride. Then I'll go back through and fill in those scenes. Then go through again and deepen the emotions or perhaps the descriptions of the setting or whatever doesn't seem right to me.

Hope some of these ideas will help you figure out your process, which you're already doing. You've used full-fledged plotting, character development, action/reaction, brainstorming with someone else, etc. Just keep writing and trying different methods and adapt them to what feels right for you.

By the way, Eli, love your analogy of "plotting into the mist." :)

Anonymous said...

Great post idea,Lisa. It's always good to get ideas and help from the writers in this awesome chapter.

I have written scenes out of sequence a few times because they've come to me in the shower or while doing dishes and I don't want to forget them. Who knows if they'll make it into the final pages of the book or not.

As far as coming up with scenes goes, I pretty much know the beginning of the story and where I want it to go, then the scenes just sorta flow one into the other because of what's already taken place before. Like a movie. It just comes to me bit by bit.

So far, I've never known the entire book from beginning to end, I only know what happens to the characters to start their journey and where I want the to end up after that journey. At this point in my writing, I have NO idea about the middle. That's why I've just kept writing and let the characters take me where they will. I think that when you really know your characters, they take the story forward for you and they will tell you where they want to go. At least, this has been my limited experience thus far.

Eli-- I loved your analogy, too. It makes so much sense. :)

Hi Katie!!! It's so exciting to see you on the blog!! You adorable little thing you!! *mommy giving her perfect daughter a big ol' squeezy hug*

Good luck Lisa! I know you're going to do awesome with this book. And if you want some derby name ideas, here's a derby name generator. Great music on it too...

Lisa Leoni said...

Thanks for your replies everyone!!! I love reading about people's processes - it's enlightening.

Genene, I need to pull out the worksheet you gave us from when you presented those steps!

Katie! Welcome!! :D Leoni Baloni is awesome!!

Thanks for the link, Piper! That's an awesome site. The words help with a lot of brainstorming.

Still trying to narrow the derby name choices. Thought of another one - Miz Medusa. There's too many to like and only one of me! *thank goodness*