Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How Much Planning Should Go Into Each Scene?

I have just finished planning Betwixt. I will start writing hopefully today or tomorrow and I'm super excited :)

As I finished off my planning yesterday, I sat back and looked at my pages of notes in Scrivener and realized just how much work I have put into the planning. This then got me wondering how other people plan and so I thought I'd ask.

How much planning do you put into each of your scenes?

This is the way I work...

I usually break my story ideas into three acts and within those acts are sequences and within those are scenes. Once I'm down to that point, I then go through and jot down what will happen in each scene and then I answer these questions...

- What do my characters desire in this scene?
- What is stopping them from getting that?
- What is the main emotional drive of this scene?
- Is it going from a positive feel to a negative feel or vice versa?
- What is the subtext for each character? What do they really what at the heart of the matter? This is often something they do not even know themselves.
- Is this a minor, moderate or major turning point in the story.

Now I know this looks like a lot of work for every single scene, but it is amazing what comes out of answering these questions. I have managed to scrub some scenes before even writing them because I realize they are not adding anything new or fresh to the story. I have also discovered where some points need filling out some more.

It helps me keep the story flowing by trying to make sure that I am alternating the feel of each scene by making it go from positive to negative then negative to positive. I also found it really interesting to see that as the story heats up near the end each turning point becomes a moderate or major one rather than the more frequent minor ones at the beginning.

The last thing I find really helpful is answering the subtext question. As you get to know your characters through the planning stages you realize there is much more beneath the surface than people might thing. It's not that you are going to spell it out for the reader, but knowing this subtext helps you drop hints through body language or small phrases that will give the reader a heads up for what might come later. It means when you do your big reveal later in the story, your reader can look back and think - oh yeah, that does make sense.

Now - as I start writing my scenes might change a little - sometimes things come out of the woodwork that you never saw coming, but I have a really solid foundation to work with and that is a great place to start.

So - that's how I work.
What do you do?

(I gleaned most of these planning ideas from Robert McKee's book STORY.)


  1. I love reading about how other people write. And I'm so jealous of writers who can plan everything out beforehand. I've tried, but it doesn't work for me. I guess I'm just a born seat-of-the-pants writer.

    1. I know other authors who work that way too. I think it's awesome we're all so different :)