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Nov 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo Tip #28: No Fail Formula to Write Any Scene

Cut hard scenes down to size.

Some scenes are daunting.

Especially endings. The final showdown? The shocking reveal? The declaration of love? The dawning insight into the Meaning Of It All?

What might cause you to stumble on a hard scene?

1. Perfectionism. 
Maybe this is a pivotal scene, or the climax of the story, and you want it to be PERFECT. After all, if the pivot isn't clear the whole rest of the story will fail... if the ending sucks, the book will be ruined... Ahhggggg!  The pressure!

2. Flow. 
You've dreamed of this scene but now that you sit down to write it, you realize it's not working. For some reason it's not flowing from the previous scene or into the following scene.

3. Ignorance. 
You've never written this kind of scene before. Maybe it's suppose to be romance, and you're used to action, or it's supposed to be a chase scene but you're used to writing witty repartee at garden parties.

4. Emotion. 
This scene is supposed to be funny or poignant or scary, but you don't know how to convey the emotion. When you try it comes out flat, or worse, you don't even know where to begin.

5. Action.
 The scene has lot of action (perhaps a battle or a disaster) and you're not sure how to block it. It either comes out too short (everything compressed into one or two paragraphs) or as a mechanical blow-by-blow recitation of the action.

Fortunately, there's a No Fail Formula to tackle hard scenes. You've no doubt heard about how to eat an bite at a time. Same with hard scenes.

No Fail Formula to Write Any Scene:

Step One: Break it down.

Let's say you start with a chapter. If you haven't already, break the chapter down into scenes. Write one line for each scene, explaining what change takes place. Now break down the scene into its own beats, again simply summarizing what change takes place. Now take each of those beats, and if necessary, break those down too. By this time, you'll probably find yourself at the sentence level, writing out what happens, but don't get hung up on the beauty of those sentences. If you need to remind yourself, put them in bullet points to remind yourself that this is still "notes" for your scene, not the scene itself. At the same time, write in the same Tense and Person (and PoV character) as the scene will be. If any beautiful or witty prose sneaks through, it will be ready to use. (Nothing is more aggravating than having to change all your sentences from third person present tense to first person past tense.)

At this point, you should find that the scene makes sense logistically, if nothing else. The story flows through it logically from the scene before to the scene after. If you've noted every beat in the scene, you can choose to leave it in this state while you push on to the end of the book. Technically, everything after this is revision.

Step Two: Study up on the tricks of the trade.
Now that you have the scene blocked out in the blandest, least challenging notes-only-form as possible, you can begin to worry about making it shine with whatever mood you need. There are known techniques for making a reader feel emotion while reading and this is where you apply them. If you don't know them,

Is this scene supposed to be scary? Review how to frighten readers. Sexy and romantic? Study up on sizzle. Exciting? Check out the rules of thrillers and fight scenes. Funny? Research humor. Yes, you can learn to be funny.

Or say that all you want is to write gorgeous, yet not purple, prose. Read up on the Sentence or re-read your favorite authors to inspire you.

This is also the place where you Search and Destroy:

... all cliches;
... over used "favorite" words or expressions and destroy them;
... excess words.

Here's a secret: You can learn to write any emotion, if you study and practice.

Which brings us to the third step.

Step Three: Write three versions of each key sentence.

What? THREE? At least three. However many versions it takes.  (If you are a perfectionist who tends to get stuck endlessly rewriting the first chapter of your book for three years, give yourself an upper limit too -- no more than 5 versions of each sentence, then you must pick one of those five versions no matter how "bad.")

You don't have to do this with EVERY sentence (perfectionists, take this warning to heart!), but with "key sentences." It's up to you to decide what sentences are key.

You may do more at this point than change sentences.

Let's say that you've read Rayne Hall's book Writing Scary Scenes and you've discovered that one trick is to have your hero walk through a door before entering a scary situation. You didn't have a door in your scene before, but it's not hard to add (it's important that you not make convoluted changes at this point). Before, the scene began with the hero in the room with the corpse. Now you insert an extra sentence or two about the hero knocking on the door, which swings open eerily...already unlocked. You've learned that this is a threshhold moment which can dramatically increase the suspense, so that makes it a Key Sentence. You write between three and five versions. Then pick the best.

If you prefer these Tips as an ebook you can buy it here for $0.99:


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