Checklist for writing a scene

When it came to my novel, I honestly didn’t think I’d have to do that. But, here I am, the stage of my novel where I am going over each scene, and I am “killing my darlings.” I want to keep most of the scenes, but I have a criteria I go over that may tell me otherwise.

clapper-board-1420048I didn’t realize until I was a young adult that some scenes in a movie didn’t make it into the final cut. Today we have DVDs where we can see the parts of the movie the director cut and left on the editing room floor.

When it came to my novel, I honestly didn’t think I’d have to do that. But, here I am, the stage of my novel where I am going over each scene, and I  am “killing my darlings.” I want to keep most of the scenes, but I have a criteria I go over that may tell me otherwise.

If a scene doesn’t fit the criteria, slash. It’s gone.

I don’t actually trash the scene, I just put it in a folder called “unused material.”
  • Is it a scene or sequel?
    A scene has a goal, a conflict, and a disaster. A scene that is a sequel has reaction, dilemma, and a decision. Both are okay, but it’s good to know which is which. Read Randy Ingermanson’s article Writing the Perfect Scene for more details.
  • What is the conflict?
    If no conflict exists in the scene, either find a way to rewrite it into the story or cut it.
  • What is the purpose of this scene?
    A scene can have several purposes: introduce a character, build suspense, establish a mood, create a resolution, and on and on. If you can’t figure out the purpose of the scene, cut it.
  • Do you have a consistent point-of-view? Would the scene be improved by changing the point-of-view?
    I wrote some scenes from the viewpoint of my antagonist. However, I felt they were to “on-the-nose” so to speak. No subtext. So I rewrote the scenes from the viewpoint of another character in the same scene, and I felt the story became more effective. Why? Because it created suspense and mystery for my antagonist.
  • Are you using sub-text in the action and dialogue of the characters? Are you avoiding on-the-nose writing?
    Instead of telling what the characters are doing and saying, pay attention to what they’re NOT doing and saying. They may say one thing, but really mean another. It’s what is going on beneath the surface. Here’s a great article about using subtext.
  • Does your character do something surprising?
    Keep your readers on their toes by surprising them with your character’s reactions. In each scene, the character should do something unexpected.
  • What emotion is the character feeling at the beginning of the scene? Does he or she have a conflicting or contrasting emotion by the end of the scene?
    If the character is laughing and playing around at the beginning of the scene, is she pissed off at the end of the scene? May sure your characters express a range of feelings and moods throughout the scene.
  • Does your character have expectations at the beginning of the scene that contrast with  what happens during the scene?
    If your character is expecting to win a competition at the beginning of scene, show him or her losing. Or something else unexpected. Or maybe the character expects to lose and ends up winning by cheating or something else. Surprise the reader.
  • Are the characters only talking in this scene? If so, does it move the story along?
    Your scene may only be a conversation, but it better move the story along.
  • Does your scene have a beginning, middle and end? Does it seem like a mini-novel?
    If you consider them a mini-story, then you’re more likely to write stronger scenes. C.S. Lakin talks about scene structure in her article.

I have a file in my Scrivener document called “Tool Box.” It has several lists to use for keeping my novel in check. One of those tools is a Scene Checklist. I review a scene using all of the above criteria. I hope you find it helpful.

Fiction Writing Workshop: Action Scenes

kick-fighting-1528974

He extends his sword and then utters these words:

“My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”

The most memorable part of this fight scene are these words. But why?

To find the answer, I wanted to know more about writing effective fight and action scenes. My novel has several of these scenes, so I did some research to maximize their punch.

I found some great articles on the web and as I read them, I kept coming across some recurring themes.

  • Action scenes in books are different than action scenes in movies. A blow-by-blow fight between characters doesn’t come across as exciting on the page as it does on the screen. Describing every detail bores the reader.
  • Action scenes must further the plot. They should do this in both movies and books.
  • Action scenes must advance characterization. Why is the protagonist fighting? The fight, the action must relate to the character’s goals.
  • Action scenes should increase the suspense, the tension and up the odds. Writer John Rogers says, “… this is one of the reasons The Matrix still holds up, and the sequels are two of the most boring movies I have ever, ever, ever seen.” I have thought the same thing over and over since I saw those last two movies.
  • Action scenes should be unique and have interesting settings. One fight scene looks like another. An interesting setting can make it more memorable.

I also found some contradicting advice. Writer K.M. Weiland says:

“Make sure you use [dialogue] to your advantage by breaking up descriptions of action with story-advancing (and perhaps scintillatingly witty?) dialogue.”

While writer Alan Baxter says:

“There is no dialogue while fighting. It never goes like that. You don’t have time, although there may be a few sharp words but no conversation.

Remember Montoya’s famous piece of dialogue? It’s totally appropriate. It had been repeated throughout the story and when he finally finds his father’s actual killer, it’s thrilling. Also, he says it before the fight begins, so it serves as a war cry.

Both of the writers I just quoted suggest using short sentences and one or two word pieces of dialogue. Good advice for fight scenes.

Here are the excellent articles:

Writing exercises:

  • Comb through your story or novel and analyze each fight or action scene. Does it develop character? Does it advance the plot? Is dialogue used appropriately? Does it create suspense?
  • Find a favorite novel and go through it looking for action scenes. Do they work? Could you improve upon them?
  • Do more research and find more articles on writing action scenes. Do you see recurring advice? What other tips can you find for writing these scenes?

See other Fiction Writing Workshops from this blog.

Books on writing I read in 2015

Every year I try and read a couple of books on the writing craft. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but,  honestly, I love reading stuff on how to write fiction. Here is what I read in 2015:

2940151898539_p0_v3_s192x300Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir
by Hank Quense
Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. What I want is something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs. Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over?

9780985780401_p0_v1_s192x300Structuring Your Novel
by K.M. Weiland
Weiland shows how to make the most of using the three-act structure as you write your novel. She has become sort of an online tutor/mentor to me because books like this one answer my questions about writing fiction.

51QhpMsap6L._UY250_Your Guide to Scrivener by Nicole Dionisio
Scrivener is a program to help writers organize their projects, both fiction and non-fiction. I can’t praise the software enough. There are dozens of books out there to show the writer how to use Scrivener, and I picked this by Nicole Dionisio. I admit I selected because it was the cheapest ebook on the subject I could find. But it’s all okay, because she did a great job and the book is short, so you can learn Scrivener quickly.

Writing Exercise: Describe One Thing Ten Ways

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis writing exercise challenges the writer to describe something ten different ways. I chose Andre, a french bulldog whom I watch when his “mommy” and “daddy” are out-of-town. I have grown quite fond of him and he offers wondrous opportunities for description. Now, for my list, I decided to tackle description using the five senses and figurative language, but you can approach your ten ways differently.

  • sight: Andre’s face bore no expression; his jowls dangled, his teeth jutted up due to his under bite.
  • sound: When Andre snoozed in his chair, he gurgled and snorted in his sleeping state.
  • taste: When I lay down on the couch for a nap, Andre would situate himself by my head and lick the salty residual from my shaved skull.
  • touch: I stroked his legs, his back, his stomach and felt the solid muscle beneath his short fur.
  • smell: After a brisk walk, Andre entered the room and the odor of musk from his exertions would fill the air.
  • simile/metaphor: Throughout most of the day, Andre would curl up on the lounge chair and snore like my grandfather used to do when he rested his weary bones in the recliner.
  • hyperbole: The front part of him bulked up so much more broadly than the back part of him that when he walked down the sidewalk, his back paws didn’t reach the ground.
  • personification: Dressed in his tiny parka, complete with a fur-lined hood and cuffs, Andre marched like a tiny man through the snow.
  • onomatopoeia: Andre always slept in bed with me at night and filled the bedroom with snorts, grunts, sniffs and wheezes.
  • chronologically: Andre’s routine varied little: he jumped on top of me in bed if I slept past his morning walk time; he gulped a few morsels of food after the morning constitution; he napped until noon; a short lunch time walk; an afternoon nap; a walk after my supper; gulped a little food of his own for his evening meal; and finally, snuggled up to me as we sat on the couch either reading or watching television.

Here are some examples of it done better than I have:

For those who think visually: storyboard your novel

the_walking_dead_title_cardI didn’t get into the AMC network show The Walking Dead until its fourth season.

Dog sitting for some friends, I binge-watched over a weekend and got hooked. The next season would start in a few weeks, and I couldn’t wait.

For the next couple of years I watched TWD faithfully. Then I got rid of cable.

I planned to watch it on Netflix. Then I realized Netflix only carries past seasons of the show. The current season will be on Netflix after its initial run on AMC. Well, with all the hub-bub over the arrival of Negan, a major bad guy from The Walking Dead comic books upon which the show is derived, ratings were at an all time high.

But, surprisingly, I didn’t care. And I still don’t.

I may or may not watch the current season when it’s on Netflix. I’ve given up on the show. Here’s why:

  • I got rid of cable.  As I said, I got rid of cable and subscribed to Netflix and Hulu. Not only are they cheaper, they have more variety than even hundreds of channels that show the same thing over and over. I’ve discovered a whole set of new tv series on Netflix and Hulu.
  • Tired of the Violence. I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t gross out at the bashing in of the skull of a “walker.” I always ask: “Wonder how they did that?” But it seems like each season, the writers of the show try to find an even more gruesome way for someone to die by the hands of walkers. Yawn. Moving on.
  • Lack of hope. This is the main reason I will probably not rush to watch TWD anymore. The show is in its seventh season and there’s no sign of a cure for becoming a zombie. While the show is still on a rating’s high, I understand not wrapping up the story, but after a while, the lack of hope the characters go though wears me down. I don’t know if the comics ever offered any kind of radical change that would wrap up the story, but the television show is surely not going to be done as long as the ratings are good.

And so, I have moved on to other shows like American Horror Story, Penny Dreadful, Timeless, and others. When I get a chance to watch the latest season of TWD, I’ll see how I feel. Right now, I’m not missing it.

Post Script:
Oh, and by the way, getting rid of cable is the best thing I’ve done in a while. Netflix and Hulu (and even Amazon Prime) have more a selection, and I can watch whenever I want. Cable, even with all those channels, had the same thing over and over.

No regrets. I highly recommend it.

Find my latest book on Amazon: Christ Simply, A Chronological Self-Guided Study through the Life of Christ.

Writing blog roundup: great writing, create characters, writing exercises, write description, show don’t tell

1091650_78779836What I read this week in writing blogs:

Writing Blog Roundup: daily writing, character’s eyes, write description, using setting, breaking style

Seeing through your character's eyes
Seeing through your character’s eyes

Some blog articles on writing I’ve read lately: