I have compiled a sort of a little help-guide for myself which I read every day before diving into writing. Then I thought, this would be cool to share with you, in case you were looking for a list like that. Or maybe you have a list of your own and could share it with me. I have pulled this from a ton of books I had read, so ask me questions if some of the terms sound unfamiliar. Depending on where you are in your writing career, you will either laugh at this (been there, done that) or feel like your brain is starting to smoke (I tried explaining this today to two non-writers who finally begged me to stop—it was like math, like programming, too complicated).
First, there are photos of book pages I take, like the one you see above. I keep them in a handy file and discard them as I start mastering them. If you want them, email me. I have a bunch from Jack M. Bickham's Scene and Structure at the moment. These change fast and often, so no point in including them here. But the other thing is in text of my scenes in Scrivener, which I can see when I'm writing (during the Compose mode). It looks like this (note the scene goal highlighted in red and the conflict in blue).
In the Synopsis box (in the upper right corner) it says:
NOVEL QUESTION: Will Character 1 do blah?
POV: Character 1
GOAL: Character 1 wants to blah with Character 2 (Ch. 1 states goal, repeats)
SCENE QUESTION: Will Character 1 do blah with Character 2?
CONFLICT: Character 2 doesn't want to do blah with Character 1 (Character 2 states an opposing goal, repeats)
DISASTER/HOOK: For Character 1: No blah, Character 2 leaves (Character 1 is pushed back, worse off as before)
SCENE QUESTION ANSWER: No.
TRANSITION: Object X
EVERY SENTENCE: CORE WORD / TURN
EVERY BEAT: GERUND (for example: begging/ignoring) / TURN
EVERY SCENE: STIMULUS / INTERNALIZATION / RESPONSE
- INC: 2 char. / 2 opposing wants, open +/-
- COM: conflict escalates
- CRI: 2 bad choices
- CLI: locate turning point
- RES: opposite close -/+
And in the Document notes (on the right) it says:
SCENE: things happen in present story time (stimulus—explanatory internalization—response):
- Goal (statement of goal—scene question);
- Conflict (introduction—action, development of conflict—more action, at least 4 turns; final turn—2 bad choices);
- Disaster (failure of character to reach the goal—character in worse shape than before—scene question answered YES or NO);
TRANSITION (one sentence to one paragraph):
- A characterization trait (common or opposite);
- An action (common or opposite);
- An object (common or opposite);
- A word (common or opposite);
- A quality of light (common or opposite);
- A sound (common or opposite);
- An idea (common or opposite);
SEQUEL: no present story time elapses (emotion—thought—decision—action):
- Emotion (show emotion by description, example, or discussion);
- Thought (review—analysis—planning);
- Decision (new goal—new scene question);
- Action (toward new goal);
- First impressions of a character are crucial:
- POV characters (hero and villain) must love someone and be loved by someone—show their humanity to make the reader care;
- POV characters must do things we admire;
- Two techniques to set up scenes:
- Sudden shock then backtrack;
- Ask early the dramatic question;
- First scene is a setup for the obligatory climax scene, where the hero and the villain collide;
- Big scenes must happen only between POV characters;
- Each scene has 10-12 changes (emotional beats); change drives the story forward—turn, turn, turn—every sentence, paragraph, scene, act;
- Description must be accurate and relevant, information vs detail, done in order:
- Seeing: space, light, color, texture, contrast;
- Hearing: loudness, complexity, direction, interpretation;
Your head spinning yet? Here, I'll add one more thing. After all this, and after writing each scene, I put it all into a spreadsheet according to the Story Grid book. It looks like this:
The column headings in the spreadsheet are:
SCENE (NUMBER); WORD COUNT; STORY EVENT; VALUE SHIFT; POLARITY SHIFT; TURNING POINT; POV; PERIOD/TIME; DURATION; LOCATION; ONSTAGE CHARACTERS; NUMBER; OFFSTAGE CHARACTERS; NUMBER.
I actually love it. It keeps me on track. Like today it showed me two major plot holes in TUBE. I cleaned them up thanks to this structure. Also, in the past many of you have told me I move too fast. Everything happens too quickly. In Siren Suicides, in particular. You said you have barely time to catch a breath between action scenes. Well, I was missing sequels. After each scene there must be a sequel. Or, if action is too intense for a sequel, it still must come later. It can be just a paragraph, or even a sentence, but it must be there. Unless you know what you're doing by fucking with the story structure (that works and sells). And I don't. So I'll stick to it.
Well, what do you think? Do you have systems of your own that you use? SHARE.
P.S.: I had a great conversation with those of you who are my patrons, and I will start soon posting writing exercises on my Patreon once a week or so. They will be fun. JOIN US.