Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tip O'Day #229 - Write in Scenes

Guest blogger Colleen Cross on borrowing a screenwriting technique.

Like many writers, I start new books with a general idea, a rough chapter outline, and a vague idea of the ending. At the start it's fresh and exciting, and I'm sure I'll knock out a first draft in no time at all. Then, just as we reach double-digit chapters, disaster strikes. My characters hijack the story. Or, even worse, they go on strike, and steer me off the highway and onto that no-exit road called Writer's Block Hell.

How can they do this to me?

Thankfully, I read some screenwriting books. Syd Field's Four Screenplays and Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! offer great advice for screenwriters, and novelists can benefit too.

One idea made all the difference; I started to write in scenes. Modern stories are based on a three act story structure: the beginning, the middle and the end. I determine the three most important scenes for each act, and then write them. Now I've got nine scenes which form the main plot and provide the theme. I don't worry about what happens before or after these scenes, or exactly what order they appear in. I can fill those in later with smaller connecting scenes. I save each scene in a separate Word file, and then I knit them into my novel's first draft.

My characters haven't mutinied on me since I started using this method. They seem happier, and while I still give them free rein, they don't take over my story, or stop it. Writing in scenes is a little messier, but it frees me to be more creative.

Visit Colleen's website and blog at http://colleencross.com and read more about Exit Strategy, Book 1 in the Katerina Carter suspense series.
Dixon says: I had coffee with writing friend (and Amazon Top 50 reviewer) Roxanne McHenry the other day. She is excited about the first draft of her dark YA novel, which consists of a series of unconnected scenes. When she gets further along, she'll worry about whether the scenes are in the right order, and how to hook them together. An interesting approach - I'm not sure I'd have the courage to try it.

1 comment:

  1. I have never experienced what you would call 'Writer's Block'. I work on three different stories at one time. I have tried outlines and sometimes still use them for my novel length books. Mostly, my characters take over. I'm in a whole different world more than three times a day.

    One of my tips for 'Writer's Block', would be to:
    Think of a word. The first word that pops in your head. Like Flower, then write down the first word that pops in your head when you think of flower. Like Iris, then keep going until eventually you fill up a page of words that might not mean anything to someone else, but might mean one story idea or several. The first word that comes into my head when I think of Iris is an Eye. Maybe I have a friend or family member named Iris I can write about. Maybe I have a story about my eyes. It could go on and on, but now you can probably go back to your story and maybe write the word you want involving that scene. By the time you are done looking over your page of words that you think of when you think of that word, you should be able to continue for a little while.

    If this does not work, then it is okay to lay that story down for a couple days and you will gain a new perspective on it, when you pick it back up.