We are like gods creating when we write. We are also like the movie version of Dr. Victor Frankenstein: we take ideas from all places, cobble them together, dress them up in fancy words, and let them loose on the world.
Before we send them out, though, all those pieces have to hang together. They have to tell a story. And stories are written in scenes, and, if the story is long enough, the scenes are organized into chapters.
After many years, I have a pretty stable version of my chapter and scene templates. I’ll explain what I put into a scene template in a series of posts. Feel free to use and adapt.
I am a Plotter. In writer terms it means that whatever stuff I accumulate for the story, I will eventually still need to give myself a pretty complete structure to work around. The basic story questions are all in hand before the major writing starts. I suppose, for me, it is that I hate losing interesting bits – I would rather not create them in the first place: creating is hard. Even when I just write, and follow my bliss like a true Pantser, it is only exploratory writing, done just as much as necessary to provide the first glimmerings. I’m not saying plotting and outlining and similar structural methods are the right way, or the only way (clearly they are not); only that it is MY current way.
I do my main plotting in Dramatica. Though Dram has a steep learning curve and arcane terminology and downright frustrating questions to answer, I find that when I’m done the story feels complete. YMMV. So the first thing I gather for the scene is a list of appreciations – bits of character, plot, and theme, and what they call ‘genre’ which is what KIND of story it is within the category of similar stories.
There are other systems of structure. I also include in the scene structure things like Save the Cat beats (STC appreciations), and story pieces from The Key structure created by James N. Frey. This would be a place to add ‘stuff’ from any other plotting system you want to use that seems to fit best in this particular scene. For me, a complete structure from beginning to end, a list of Chapters and Scenes, each with the ‘stuff’ (appreciations in Dramatica-speak) that has to be illustrated in there somehow, is a requirement to avoid leaving something out. I write erratically, with a small part of a usable brain, when it feels like it – without a structure to return to each time, I would be lost.
The template collects all the bones of the scene, every piece of information I have created for the structure. I fill in the template before I attempt to write the scene.
In revising each scene, part of my process is to X-ray the structure to see if it still works, and if the answers I’ve filled in previously still accomplish the ‘Purpose of the scene in the book’ as a whole. If not, I set the muscles and skin aside, rearrange the skeleton, put such pieces of flesh back on as still twitch, add new flesh as necessary, and cover with regrown skin. Kind of like forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan does on the TV show Bones – except I expect my resurrected scene to get up, skate around, and hold hands nicely with the rest of the scenes in the book to crack the whip.
Below is the chapter and scene template*, with the framework of the chapter template around it. I’ve already discussed the Questions – the main one answered by this scene, and the Questions I leave scattered behind like breadcrumbs – in Part 1. It is my job as storyteller to ask and answer these in such a way as to help the reader create the experience of story; it helps to actually write them down.
Each scene in a chapter is a short story: it has a beginning – and a FIRST LINE. It has an end – and a LAST LINE. In the middle is a collection of beats, one per event in the scene. Each beat is a tiny chunk of story, and a set of them, in some deliberate order, makes up what happens in a scene. So far, obvious. I’ll describe more in future posts.
*Download .pdf version (.doc or .docx available on request):