Ideally speaking, spread before your eyes is the congealed mass of words barfed onto your word processor. Your word vomit has been paragraphed, thoughts turned into coherent sentences, and dare I say it, might even have a semblance of a three act structure infiltrating their ranks.
Open a new window and put on your Big Kid underwear because it’s time to break into a scene list.
This Is Killing My Creativity
“But Tia!” you all insist, in your best the-internet-as-one voice. “Planning out my entire novel will kill the creative inspiration behind the story! I cannot trap my muse between the steel bars of an outline!”
“Calm your tits,” I say to everyone using their internet voices. “And stop using so many exclamation points. You’re not planning every fucking little thing. You’re giving yourself mile markers so that when you are inspired to take things in a different direction, you know how to line up the new stuff to still fit in with the rest of the story.”
Everyone varies in how much detail they prefer to plan, but I stick to the bare bones.
But What About My Characters?
Writers tend to fall into two different camps: plot first and character first. Plot first writers are the ones that have badass ideas for a story first and can craft an enthralling chain of events from that and half a cup of coffee. Then there’s the character first writers who usually come up with a kick-ass idea for the Most-Interesting-Character-Ever before they ever think about, you know, what that character is doing and shit.
Most of us are a bit of both, but usually one tendency tends to at least ring in at 51%. I used to be purely character first, spending hours obsessing over every quirk in my imaginary person’s life, until I realized that for all the roundness of my cast– they were boring as shit. Absolutely no plot was stomping into the room and smacking them across the face with it’s dickish-ness.
Scene lists address this problem– they get all your plot ducks in a row while outlining the most interesting part of your character: the actions they take. Even if you’re a character-first type, don’t worry about that at this stage. You can flesh them out as soon as your figure out what the fuck they’re doing here.
Fine, Fine. Scene List.
Well, there’s a ton of different ways to approach this. Some people get really spreadsheet happy, so if that’s your thing, go get down with your bad self .
For now, we’ll try it my way: scene cards.
I tried handwritten note cards my first time around this literary rodeo, and I liked the freedom to physically move the card if I fucking felt like it. I also spilled a shit ton of liquid on them and smeared the ink, so it ended up being a bigger pain in the ass than justified. Do as you please, just be advised: Doritos cheese smear is harder to read through than one might think.
Now I’m a fan of Google Slides, which is like PowerPoint, only free and not shitty.
Go on. Fire it up.
Fired. Now How The Fuck Do I Do This?
Go ahead and make a new slideshow presentation, give it a title, etc. Set up the format so that you have a title line and two columns, like so:
Now go ahead and give yourself a scene or chapter designation and a title, just enough so that you’ll know what it is at a glance.
Now give yourself a timeline reference. If exact dates don’t matter (mm/dd/yy) then go ahead and start at Day 0 and move onwards. This will give you the best reference for jumping scene to scene and it needs to be one of the first things you see when you glance at your card.
Once you’ve got that established, go into your left hand column and start with the location of the scene. Feel free to add in any other references such as time of day, coordinates, whatever you need to understand the current setting.
Beneath that, bring up a bullet point list. Now add whatever characters will be featured in the scene– focus on main characters, but don’t be shy about adding in bit characters you know will have to be present as well.
If there is ever a question to ask yourself when writing, it’s ‘where’s the goddamn heat?’ Conflict NEEDS to be present in every fucking scene you write. I’ll do another post about conflict, but if all your characters get along swimmingly, you’ve got a fucking problem.
Underneath your character list, list the conflict between characters or forces. One will be fine, but multiple sources are ideal if the scene can support it.
This last part is the most time consuming, depending on how detailed you care to get. Just give a brief overview of what’s in the scene. Don’t worry too much about catching all the details, just give yourself enough to go on.
Annnnnnddddd that’s it, essentially. Do this until you’re out of ideas and have a rough idea of a feasible ending. The amount of scenes needed for a novel is wildly inconsistent– between 30 and 100 is completely normal. Don’t worry too much about how few or many you have– some scenes may be three paragraphs, others may be pages and pages long. Word count is a more accurate metric anyway.
Beyond this step, you’ll want to move on to some character sheets…. which I’ll cover in another post. In the meantime, go write some shit.