On Narrative Scenes: Choosing Your Scenes

***This post is one of several in our prewriting series. To read the first post, click here.***

Today in our series on prewriting for JuNoWriMo, Aaron Pogue talks about writing a scene.

Remember, you’re free to write as much of your novel as you’d like beforehand, but you can only count the words you write in June toward your 50,000 goal.

Aaron Pogue

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This month we’re reviewing all the parts and processes that go into developing a story. Our goal is to put together a complete prewriting package to do some of the heavy lifting for you when it comes time to write a novel in June.

So far, if you’ve been following along, you have Characters, you have the elements of a Plot, presumably you know your Setting, but we still have to discuss how you actually write the story. What do you do to convert that story idea we have so well documented into an actual story?

Thinking in Scenes

The answer is writing scenes. Scenes are the building blocks of any story. Whether it’s a poem, a bit of interpretive dance, a Great American Novel, or a major motion picture, a story is told in scenes. A story told without clearly defined scenes is, essentially, a synopsis. This is how we separate storytelling from summary.

No matter what time frame you’ve chosen for your story, it probably contains the potential for an infinite number of scenes. You could use flashbacks and flashfowards to give the story context, you could have a play-within-a-play, or dreams or hallucinations – you could write a thousand scenes into a narrative that only actually takes place within a single room, over a span of a couple minutes. It would probably be dreadful, but it could be done.

The point is, the story idea that you have already developed contains within it a boundless sea of scenes. A few of them are gripping, immersive. Some of them leap out at you, defining moments in the path from the Big Event to the stunning Climax. Most of them are irrelevant.

Choosing the Scenes

Your job, as the storyteller, is to choose which scenes you are going to include in your story. That’s it. Once you have a character list and a premise, most of the scenes can be extrapolated from there, but it’s up to you to choose which scenes to present to your audience.

For an excellent example of that, just consider the Harry Potter books. He’s in school the entire time, right? For the first five books, at least, he’s spending most of his time in classes, presumably, but how many scenes can you remember where he was in a classroom? They are far fewer than the scenes in the dining hall or the common room, scenes on the Quidditch field or (most common) skulking down shadowy corridors.

Of course, there are scenes that take place in the classroom – often highly dramatic scenes that jump immediately to mind – and that’s precisely the point. She could have included thousands of classroom scenes, but instead she chose just the ones that served the story best, and implied all the hours spent bent over a textbook or scribbling down notes.

When it comes time for you to convert your story idea into a story, there is just one rule you must remember: every single scene must move your story forward.

Believe me, you will write scenes that you absolutely fall in love with but that don’t measure up to that one rule. And, painful as it will be, you’ll have to cut them out of the story. That is the price writers pay. Apart from the rejection letters, it’s really the only one — having to remove something so beautifully crafted from your masterpiece. It’s necessary, though.

Writing the Scene

Before you can start cutting anything, though, you’ve got to get it written. We’ll start on that with this week’s big writing assignment.

Come back tomorrow, and we’ll move you a big step closer to your JuNoWriMo novel with a little bit of practice writing.

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Related Posts:

The Conflict Resolution Cycle

On Narrative Structure: The Mock Table of Contents

JuNoWriMo Features Authors and YOU

The Conflict Resolution Cycle

***This post is one of several in our prewriting series. To read the first post, click here.***

The last few weeks we’ve been looking at a strategy for prewriting your novel. It’s the perfect way to get all ready for JuNoWriMo and to fight off that first bout of writer’s block that threatens to strike by way of the blank page.

Even better than that, I’ve found that doing prewriting for my novels gets me all amped up about my story in a very effective way. It gets me excited about my novel and shoots me with that burst of energy to take off at high speeds when June 1st hits.

Here’s Aaron Pogue with the latest in the series.

Aaron Pogue

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Today we’re moving on to the Conflict Resolution Cycle worksheet. It’s a questionnaire/assignment I cooked up a couple years back to force a writer through the questions necessary to convert a story idea into an actual narrative.

Most of the questions explain themselves, so instead of opening with a big long introduction, I’m just going to dive right in. Continue reading “The Conflict Resolution Cycle”

On Narrative Structure: The Mock Table of Contents

***This post is one of several in our prewriting series. To read the first post, click here.***

Ready for more prewriting tips? Here’s Aaron Pogue with the next installment in the series designed to streamline your JuNoWriMo experience.

Aaron Pogue

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Okay, May is already washing out from under us like sand in the surf, right? Next thing we know, we’re going to be caught in an undercurrent and sweeping toward June without a lifeguard in sight.

(I may have gotten lost in my metaphor there.)

That’s okay. Most of the prewriting steps don’t take more than a day or two.

Today we’re going to start with the quickest and the easiest: the mock Table of Contents. All you need to write that one is a vague idea what happens in your story. Continue reading “On Narrative Structure: The Mock Table of Contents”

On Narrative Structure: Outlines

***This post is one of several in our prewriting series. To read the first post, click here.***

Want to make your JuNoWriMo experience go as smoothly as possible? That’s what we’re here for. Today Aaron Pogue delivers part 3 of his prewriting series.

Aaron Pogue

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The whole fabric of your story — no matter the genre — depends on the things that happen, and what order those things happen in. So at the very least, you should give the order of events some thought. My first JuNoWriMo prewriting step is designed to make you do just that, so let’s consider what kind of preparation needs to go into a mock Table of Contents. Continue reading “On Narrative Structure: Outlines”

Prewriting: The Steps

***This post is one of several in our prewriting series. To read the first post, click here.***

Welcome back! This is the second post in the prewriting series by Aaron Pogue. In this series, we hope to  empower you to succeed at JuNoWriMo. It’s great if you’ve never participated in a month long challenge, but even if you’re a pro, I encourage you to try it. Having a prewriting plan has immensely helped me with my own novels and Aaron has a great strategy.

Enjoy! Continue reading “Prewriting: The Steps”

Prewriting for JuNoWriMo

May is halfway over—can you believe it? June will be here before you know it, so now’s the time to get ready. For the next two weeks we’ll have a series of posts to help guide you through the prewriting process. Prewriting is not required to participate in JuNoWriMo, but we highly recommend being as prepared as possible before taking the leap into June (and 50,000 words). If you follow our prewriting advice, it will help set you up to succeed from day one.

We’ve brought in a special guest just for this purpose. Aaron Pogue is the bestselling author of the fantasy novel Taming Fire. He has published six books and a handful of short stories. He’s the President of The Consortium, a non-profit organization that strives to support artists and make quality books more accessible to the public. He’s also won NaNoWriMo  four years in a row, so he’s got some experience in knowing how to prepare for such a high-intensity writing adventure.

Now here’s Aaron. Continue reading “Prewriting for JuNoWriMo”