Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Seeing the next scene

I need to see a scene clearly in my head -- or at least see the beginning clearly -- before I can write it. If I can see it in my mind, I can create it on paper. All I have to do is go to the computer and begin.

On the other hand, when things are going poorly and my writing slows to a crawl and stops, it's always because I can't see the next scene. I know where the book is going but I'm not clear on the exact steps needed to take it from here to there. I'll say it again: I can't see the next scene. Stops me dead, as it should.

That's when I reach for my scene book. I put my writing aside for a day or two (okay, even longer) and focus only on visualizing the next few scenes.  (Why stop with one, right?  When I'm dead in the water, I try to nail down four to seven new scenes before I resume writing. Then I can really get on a roll.)

For my scene book I use an annotation-ruled notebook, the kind pictured above, that has a quarter column down the left side and ruled lines on the right.  (I've only seen them at Levenger, though surely they're available from others.)  This is where I carve out the details of upcoming scenes.

In the left column I write a title -- anything that will clearly tell me what scene this is. For instance, "Harry insults Nigel ".  On the right I list the components of the scene, using words and phrases that will bring the idea to life in my brain when I next look at them.  As I've said elsewhere, snatches of dialogue are always good to get a scene up and moving, and I often include dialogue in a scene summary.  Sometimes I write the beginning of the scene, just as it will appear in the book.  If the words occur to me, I may as well get them down.  This is of course a great help when I sit down to write the scene at the computer -- it's already going when I start.  But mostly the scene book contains brief notes that swiftly summarize a scene idea.

Good, I've got one scene laid out. It's in my scene book and that makes me feel so secure. I know that when I look at what I've written, I will be able to write the scene  Time to move on to the next one and go through the same process, writing down the result in my trusty scene book. 

(Not that it's necessary but I use a different ink color for every scene idea. It makes them distinct so that I can tell right away where one ends and another begins. I find this makes it easier to scan the notes later, and I suspect that scanning through my scene book would be a murkier affair if everything was in blue-black ink. Plus, I love color and always work it into my day. Hey, I'm a hippie. Sue me.) 

A scene book with four or five (or seven!) scenes laid out is the greatest asset I could have as a writer. The notes act as guideposts, easing me into the process of writing.  With a fleshed-out scene book at my side, I'm unstoppable.

Try it -- or perhaps you have other secrets you'd like to share in the comments.  This one works for me.