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My first milestone in writing a story is to have a complete, start to finish description of the sequence of events and character actions that comprises the story. However, this isn't enough to get started writing, because a scene is more than a story event: a scene is an event and a point of view. Which character are you following during this event? When do you enter scene and exit scene?

I have trouble getting from a sequence of events to a sequence of scenes. There are infinitely many possible sequences of scenes to describe a given sequence of events, and I get overwhelmed trying to figure out which ones are better. What goals do I have to keep in mind to figure out what the sequence of scenes should be? In other words, what "rules", or approximate rules, can I use to decide whether one scene is better than another?

(As examples, "enter late, leave early" or "build every scene around a conflict with a resolution" are examples of rules that can be used to help decide how to turn your events into actual scenes).

Also, what concrete processes can I use to work it all out? For instance, do you find it better to start with the opening scene and work from there? Make a chart of where the characters are at different points? Etc.

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    Something important to remember - everyone is different. What works for one person may not work for another. Something else important - you have to find the right medium between planning and writing. Plan too much, and your writing loses power. Write without planning enough, and you lack direction. For example, I tend to get a sequence of events, and then just start writing. The scenes flow naturally (sometimes with a few rewrites). This may not work for you, however, hence the comment. – Thomas Myron Jul 9 '15 at 23:07
  • While I haven't used the technique myself, you may find Motivation-Reaction Units could work for you: advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/writing-the-perfect-scene Goal/Conflict/Disaster, Reaction/Dilemma/Decision. – Lauren Ipsum Jul 10 '15 at 10:23
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Personally, all my "planning" is limited to finding the beginning of my story, the situation that triggers all the following events, and then I just follow my characters, observing and noting down what they do. This exploration is what excites me as a writer and my sole motivation to write.

I have written one story, where I knew some of the waypoints that my story would pass. But from one waypoint to the other I have explored the terrain in between, without any maps and prescribed routes, never knowing how I would arrive at the next waystation.

Knowing exactly what I have to write, makes me want to flee my desk. Just phrasing, that is, just finding the right words to tell what I already know is so boring to me that I cannot endure it. That's one of the difficulties I have when I must write an essay: I know what I want to say, and that was the part that was interesting to me. Putting it into words is no longer thrilling. I can only bring myself to do this, if I do it while I still come up with what I want to write.

I understand that other writers are different, but my advice (to a person like myself) would be to plot as little as possible and just define the essential plot points – and explore what lies in between.

Plotting will make you think up a story. It will be constructed, flat, stereotypical. Not plotting but exploring will make your gut tell the tale. And those tales are much more alive and intense than anything your conscious, rational mind can come up with. Because those tales will be filled to the brim with you – instead of what you think other expect of a "good" story or what you read about how stories should be constructed and other similar crap.

Did Hemingway plot? No. He rewrote, that is, when he got lost without a map, he went back and tried another path. Until he got to a place he liked.

  • I agree with your response & think it's very good and comes from real experience as a writer. However, I believe there is also a way to iterate through this quickly (more quickly) as you gain experience. And the way to iterate through this more quickly is to daydream -- plot -- about what might happen or not happen. This daydreaming must be focused -- thinking about the story / plotting -- and would include jotting down but not necessarily writing it out completely. It's a hybrid of writing even when you aren't writing and can get you to a place where you have more of a map, but not rigid. – raddevus Jul 10 '15 at 15:50
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So far this has veered into a plotter/pantser debate, with pantsers expressing their disagreement over plotting instead of trying to answer the Q.

Plotting will make you think up a story. It will be constructed, flat, stereotypical.

That is just bad writing, plotting is not to blame, the writer is. The other side of that coin is pantsers whose story have no head or tail and go nowhere. It is a lot more likely to get utterly lost without plans. I am always amazed when a pantser is able to finish a coherent story.

I suspect that they are only able to do so because some order emerges from the chaos of their numerous drafts. They stumble in the dark till they start to see a light in the end of the miasmatic abyss they plunged themselves in. They self-mutilate, auto-enucleate, and chain themselves to a rock.

Though, given that some major authors are pantsers, I accept this blindly faltering "method", or more accurately lack of any method, as a valid alternative approach to plotting.

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Anyways, for you main Q, it depends. My approach is that the events need to be fleshed out. When you have your sequence of events you need to see it like a dream sequence. You need to live your scenes, feel the emotion, and perceive what yours senses are telling you. When you have that you should have your POV character, if you didn’t have one before. The more you advance, the more the POV character will come to life, that in turn will determine the scenes.

A possible approach is a hierarchical scene construction. Start with major scenes, the beginning, the act turns, the climax-resolution. Then flesh out the secondary plot points scenes. Then minor points, or scenes that are needed to fill in, or give context, to a plot point or character trait.

Yes, there can be multiple ways showing the events, you need to find the optimal way. The best scenes need to achieve the most objectives in the least amount of space. They do not follow one method but combine many. So mix up things like scene timing, action/reaction, MRU, rising tension, conflict in dialogue, subtext….

Each scene needs to be critical to the overall structure. I also think that the best scenes are original. Integrate all the needed elements, but surprise the readers. Take them in unexpected paths, show them something unanticipated, and dazzle your reader. This is how you avoid a story that is too linear, take some detour, garnish some sub-plots, and embroider some threads.

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Just get on and write it. If you have got a plot, churn out a first draft, or series of possible scenes. Over-planning just means you don't actually write it. Of course you need an idea about what to write. If you have got a sequence of events get on and write the story.

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This seems to have sparked the age-old plotting or not debate. Personally, I have to plot. I am not able to take an idea and a beginning and just go. Especially since I write crime thrillers, I have to be leaving clues throughout, and, to me, there's just too much rewriting if I don't include those clues first. There are some people that are great pantsers. More power to them. One writing/planning style doesn't work for everyone. You have to find your own process and work with it.

My process is: first, I get an idea and write it down. Second, expand as much as I can on the idea and sub-plots in a general notes form (not an outline). Next, I notecard - this is my scene by scene outline. On each index card, I write the main point of the scene, any dialogue I want to remember for when I'm writing, the POV character, the time/date, and the location. Finally, I write the darn story.

Something to remember when you're writing from an outline/scene cards is that you can deviate from this while you're writing. In fact, you most likely will. I haven't had a book yet that I've written exactly as my notecards are laid out. I usually think of some other trouble my characters can run into along the way and roll with it. But I usually go back and fix any notecards that are ahead of where I am to accommodate the change.

To actually answer your question, each scene must contribute something to the story. Don't have any "filler" scenes. Use those to reveal something, even if it's character revelation. There also should be some kind of conflict in each scene.

Personally, I start at the beginning and work my way through to the end (unless I have one scene that is just burning in my head, then I'll write it ahead), because I visualize my books as if they were movies in my head, so I make sure those transitions would feel right and I have to go in order for that. Again, find out what works for you: some people can jump around; I can't. And if you're writing something like a mystery where you have to leave clues, it might be helpful to keep track of what they are, who knows about them, and when they find them on a separate document.

Good luck writing your scenes.

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