Week 3: The Big Scenes

Week 3 is where we begin to multi-task. (What? You thought writing a novel was going to be one sequential task after another?) At this stage you should have a few thousand words of notes on the following:

  1. Main characters
  2. Setting
  3. Summaries of your first twenty scenes

From now on, in week 3 and week 4, we will add to each of the three things above. To your character notes you will add details of your other main characters (an average novel has about seven to eight of these), your secondary characters, your minor characters and so on. To the setting document you will add details of micro-settings – which are the places where your scenes generally occur. When it comes to your scene summaries you have a choice. You can either:

–          Expand the one-line summaries to two-hundred-word summaries, OR

–          Write one-line summaries for your next twenty scenes.

Week 3 is also the time when we should begin thinking about our ‘big scenes’. Those of you who have read up on the three-act structure will know about the point of no return. If you’re following the three-act, then your ‘big scenes’ are very simple to define. Opening, Doorway to Act 2, Doorway to Act 3, Climax, and one other scene somewhere in the middle of Act 2.

If you’re not using the three-act structure (why aren’t you?) then you will have to rely more on intuition. When you close your eyes and think about your story, what are the scenes that jump out at you and beg you to write them? Which ones do you keep thinking about? There must be some image, some sound, some instant in your story that captivates you. Found one? Good. Now find four more.

Once you’ve zeroed in on five big scenes, you will start structuring your story around them. One good way of doing it is to work backward and forward from each scene so that you know more of the story, then repeat the process using the other scenes. If you do this for all five scenes, you should have a fair understanding of your story.

For example, one of my ‘big scenes’ may be that a young man stabs a young woman in her chest on a moonlit night with a limestone temple in the background. Now I work forward and backward from it and ask some basic questions (what where when how why) to find out more. When I get tired of thinking of this scene I move on to the next, and I cycle through them to keep myself interested.

All we’re doing really is flogging our minds for some material. I would recommend you to write down everything that comes into your mind at this stage no matter how rubbish or foolish it appears to you. Here’s where it is critical that you throw out the editor in your head. Anything you write down here is permissible. The first few hours you may find yourself writing only the most clichéd ideas, but sooner or later, if you keep at it, the real you will come out. Count on it.

So the deliverables for next week are as follows:

  1. All the seven(ish) main characters should be named. 200 words written on each character
  2. All your scenes’ micro-settings should be defined. 200 words on the specific details of each scene’s setting.
  3. Identify your five big scenes. Write 100 words on each of them.
  4. Write notes on each of your five big scenes, working forward and back from the instant that your scene depicts.
  5. Either have one-line summaries for all the scenes in your novel or have 200-word summaries of the first twenty scenes

Right, if you have the above, then you’re all good. See you next week, same time, same place.



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