Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Anatomy of a Book - Making Scenes

So far I’ve talked about where story ideas come from, naming characters, dramatic story situations, title choices, character charts, brainstorming, chapter charts and organizing the writing. Scroll down for more of this blog series on how I put a book together.
You know that books are written in scenes, right? That it’s amateurish and boring to catalog everything a character does, so you must choose the most useful or exciting moments? That every scene should have a purpose, whether to illustrate character, develop the primary relationship, establish or escalate conflict or drive the story forward with action and reaction?
If you’ve read this far in this series of posts on how I put a book together, you won’t be surprised to hear that I often outline the scene coming up in my WIP. I do this not because I’m OCD - well, not completely! – but because I have a vivid picture of the scene in my mind and want to be certain I capture every bit of it, painting that scene with words. My notes include some, if not all, of the following:
  • The information that will carry the story forward.
  • The season and time of day if it has bearing on the action.
  • POV character and her/his goal and motivation.
  • What the characters are wearing and how they appear.
  • Conflict that arises between the characters and their attitudes toward it.
  • Brief outline of any specific dialogue exchange I’ve heard in my head.
  • Effect on the romantic relationship as a result of this scene.
  • Snippets of backstory that might have bearing.
  • Subtle, or not so subtle, hint of what might happen next as a hook.
My notes for the first scene of Book 3 in my Italian Billionaires series look like this then: 
  • Cop Heroine is in a hurry, resents the traffic jam she comes upon, decides to fix it.
  • Describe Amalfi Coast Road, its beauty, problems and dangers. Early evening. Rain. Fog.
  • Heroine rescues the cat named Trouble in Italian. Describe cat.
  • Enter the hero, describe him, his clothing in heroine’s POV.
  • Explore in dialogue their different ideas on how to fix the traffic jam.
  • Their mutual cooperation to solve the problem.
  • Sensual tension between the two main characters.
  • Hero’s POV, describe heroine; his exasperation with her take-charge attitude.
  • His backstory of why he has the cat, why it’s important that no one knows he has it.
  • Describe heroine’s rental car going over the cliff -- and his satisfaction at the sight.

I’m more likely to do detailed outlines at the beginning of a book. Once I’m immersed in the story I can usually segue from one scene to the next without pause. But I still jot down scene ideas that may come to me while driving, showering, just before going to sleep, etc. Sometimes my computer screen has so many sticky notes attached it looks as if it might fly away! It really hurts to lose a great idea that might have made my scene come alive for the reader.


Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.



Tamelia Tumlin said...

Love the scene writing explanation...I may try the outlining strategy as well (especially on those days when I can't really get into the writing part due to time constraints, but want to be productive anyway). :)

Jennifer Blake said...

Glad you found something useful, Tamelia. Outlining a scene does help me jump into it, so to speak, so I can write about it from the inside out. The more detail you can include, the easier it will be when you start to put words on paper -- or on the computer screen. So many people think you aren't writing unless you're crafting words, but there a lot of thinking and planning that goes into the process as well.