How to Use Scenes to Plot

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On my WIP, I’m closing in on Act 3 of writing my novel and heading into the home stretch. This first draft, I’m focusing on the scene structure.

So, yesterday, I made notes about the scenes needed to finish the story. This is different from writing a synopsis of the story.

Differences in Synopsis and Scene Layout

A synopsis tells the story in a condensed form. But scenes are the actual events that will be used to flesh out the story.

For example, if you write the story of the Three Little Pigs, you could start at the beginning: a momma pig and a poppa pig have triplets. Starting from there, you could tell a long, convoluted story up to the point of outwitting the Big Bad Wolf.

Using scenes, however, forces you to decide what events are important, visual, exciting, dramatic. Writing a novel isn’t just about telling a story; it’s about telling a story in the most dramatic way possible to make an impact on the reader.

So, yesterday, I knew the rest of the story. But I tried to decide which parts were important enough to give over to an entire scene and which could be left to narrative summaries.

Criteria for Choosing Scenes to Include in Your Novel:

  • Which events would connect with readers best?
  • Which events have the most emotional power?
  • Which events have the most visual interest?
  • Which events BEST advance the action and SHOW what is going on with the characters’ lives?

Today, I’ll look over the list and reevaluate again. And then start writing the final scenes! Hurrah!

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2 Comments
  • Holly Cupala
    January 6, 2009

    This is so helpful, Darcy! I’m powering through a novel draft myself. Thank you for the ideas. I also like the scene-sequel method of Dwight Swain’s motivation-reaction units – very clinical, but awfully useful in sorting out scenes.

  • Darcy Pattison
    January 7, 2009

    Thanks, Holly! I do like Swain’s work, but find Jack Bickham’s books easier to follow. And I love THE SCENE BOOK: A Primer for the Fiction Writer by Sandra Scofield. It has helped the most.
    Darcy