The Importance of Having Scenes

I think I’ve finally figured out why having pages and pages of an outline doesn’t always help me when I write. I don’t outline scenes. I just outline events that should happen, and then I have trouble trying to figure out how to include all of that information. I experienced something similar with my homework the other day. I had to write a 2-3 page reading response, and I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to write. I just had a bunch of notes that I had taken, and I was constantly jumping from point to point, and it wasn’t very smooth or coherent, and it wasn’t as much fun to write as it was in my head because I wasn’t very organized.

The same can be true for my writing. I think I end up trying to include too much, and then I get bored trying to include it all. Take this next chapter I’m supposed to be writing for example. My notes for the chapter say “Natalie and Josh hang out more. He shows her around the office. She goes with him to register people to vote. Then they pass out info on candidates. He argues with Samantha about politics.”

That’s not a scene. That’s a bunch of information. When I made the note, I had planned on having that information cover several days. Now that I’m going to write it, I’m wondering why I did that. Why is it important to see every time Natalie and Josh hang out? Why can’t I jus show one time and then reference the other times? A better note would look like this: “Natalie and Josh are standing on campus, passing out information on the candidates and trying to register people to vote. Two people from the office arrive to replace them, so they go back to Natalie’s apartment, where Josh and Samantha start discussing politics. Natalie respects Josh even more because he doesn’t get angry or defensive while talking to her.”

Granted, that chapter was rather easy to fix, but there are others that aren’t as easy. I need to start thinking in terms of scenes, not events. I keep reading about how novels are made up of scenes that have beginnings, middles, and ends, and I’ve nodded and rolled my eyes and thought, “of course,” but it wasn’t until now that I realized that that’s not how I write. I cant believe it’s taken me this long to figure out what’s wrong with my writing. I mean, I have other problems, of course, but I think this is my main problem when it comes to writing the first draft. My most successful outlines have been the ones where I have more clearly defined scenes. That’s what I need to focus on from now on.

I’ve written the first nine chapters (plus the prologue) so far, and Let Go currently sits 33,674 words. That’s quite pathetic considering I started this novel August 1, but I’m going to try to focus on the positives. I know how to fix my outline. I’ve done all of my homework for the next week and a half. I’m not working this Thursday. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to write at least one chapter a day for the rest of the month. I think I get caught up sometimes trying to write a lot at once, like I did last November, and then I get overwhelmed and don’t write anything at all. I need to stop doing that.


Posted on September 9, 2012, in Let Go, outlining, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. You know, it’s good to focus on the important things, like learning when you find you’ve been doing something that doesn’t work well for you. Kudos to you. And I agree, it’s important to know and be able to balance the bits you have to include and the ones you can leave out or mention in passing because it’s normal stuff for your characters/world.

    • You’re definitely right. It’s just sad how much time I spend making and analyzing mistakes rather than just writing. 😀

      • If you’re learning from that analysis, and applying what you learn, there will be more time for writing later. You won’t make those mistakes, and therefor won’t have to analyze them. It’s a process 😉

      • That’s true. I need to remember that. Actually, I think I’m going to tape a note card to my computer that says just that. I keep forgetting that just because I’m not great at first doesn’t mean I can’t eventually get there. It just takes work. 🙂

      • Anything worth learning takes time, and the craft of writing is no exception. As long as you’ve learned, even the mistakes aren’t a waste. They keep saying you learn more from what you screw up than from what you get right. Trust me, it was my mantra when I had to throw out the manuscript of the first novel I ever completed and start that book over again almost from scratch. Boy, did I learn from that little experience.

  2. I find myself guilty of the same thing, and then I’m baffled as to why my notes aren’t helping me at all. I’ve also found that on the occasions that I outline, I outline differently for different projects. Depending on the nature of the book, I tend to add more or less information in my outlines and “play by ear.” It’s always an adventure!

    • Good to know I’m not alone! And I do the same thing with outlining different novels differently. I’ve found I don’t outline scenes involving family fights very well. I just write “fighting ensues” and then figure it out as I go. 🙂

  3. I know exactly what you mean! I realized one day that ever chapter started with my character waking up and ended with her going to bed. Now that’s ridiculous. It sounds like you’ve learned a few great lessons here about yourself as a writer :). Best of luck to you and your diligence!

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