First line, Last line, and in between – Scene Template, Part 3

Continuing on using a scene template, and what I have found useful to put in it. The template I created is available on the Writer resources page.

Before proceeding, I’m not sure this is as helpful for a pantser-type writer as for a plotter. I am the latter, mostly because I hate going down the wrong path for too long. My writing is physically difficult, and I want to get the actual words just right too early in the process, so I edit too soon. Then I have the common problem of getting too attached to my own words, and hating to toss things which have to be tossed.

For the tossing, I have a new solution: cut scenes. Movie DVDs often have a section with scenes which, for some reason or another, usually obvious once you see them, a scene was cut from the final movie. Only some of these scenes are restored in a Director’s Cut. I always watch them on the DVDs, and almost always agree the cut was necessary, but some creative instinct led to them being written and filmed in the first place, and that is usually instructive.

Now, back to the template.

One of the central parts of my template uses two concepts:
First line/last line – the combination is important (inspired in part by Juliette Wade’s post on and by Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction, Chapter 3 – Scenes That Can’t Be Cut).
And Outer turning point/Inner turning point.

The second concept comes from Donald Maass’ excellent book, The Fire in Fiction, which is, at this point, the book I consult most often when actually writing a scene.

On the principle of “If you don’t tell your story WELL, no one will ever find out it’s a good story” – which basically means that you don’t have an idea and a plot, but that you actually have something someone would enjoy reading in EVERY scene of your novel – Maass points out the necessity that in every scene something external has to happen/change as a trigger to what follows (he calls this the Outer turning point; I label it OTP), and that this leads to something happening internally in the pov character (ITP).

This is the heart and soul of a scene: the basic answer to ‘What happens in this scene?’ and ‘What is the purpose of this scene in the book?’

In my template, I make this very clear to myself by having a little section that looks like this:
FL: The actual first line text
OTP: Happening that leads to change
ITP: Internal change in response to happening
LL: The actual last line text

I don’t write the scene, and I don’t edit the scene, until this part is very clear.

The FL/LL combination is equally important (though it sometimes doesn’t come together before the writing starts). It is the line that draws you into reading the scene in the first place, and the line that makes you want to read more. The HOOK to the scene, and the HOOK to continuing. Sometimes the lines come from just asking myself what is the first thing I want the reader to know, and looking at what I’ve written in a first or subsequent draft.

I know instinctively, but not necessarily efficiently. The true or ‘best’ first line is often in there someplace within the first two paragraphs, but there is a rightness, an Aha! feeling, a sense of satisfaction when I find the exact placement, the precise piece of information, drag it into the first position AND format it correctly.

For example, I may find the exact right beginning somewhere in the internal monologue of the pov character, as a general thought: ‘She thought he probably knew what he was doing.’ Which becomes a single short line at the beginning: ‘He knows what he’s doing.’ The writing is cleaner, shorter, more pithy. And by making it a direct, close, deep thought, its importance is raised from one-of-many to the important thought.

This process and this template section has a second benefit. If you string them together for all the scenes in the chapter, a 4-line block of text for each scene, you have the basics of a synopsis of the chapter.

Here is an example from the WIP, Pride’s Children, three sequential scenes, one from the point of view of each of the three characters, in outline format:

FL: The next heartbeat hurt as adrenaline surged. My God, why do you torture me?
OTP: I’ve got thirty seconds – it’s HIM
ITP: He’s shy?
LL: “…I still have work to do.” Damn. That’s exactly the wrong thing to say.

FL: Damn—what did I do?
OTP: She’s putting her work aside to be welcoming
ITP: She doesn’t want to talk about HER work
LL: Since when do I crave peace?

FL: Finally! And where the hell is Grant?
OTP: Bianca finally gets to Grant at wrap of scene he’s directing
ITP: She loses major interest when Andrew is not there – can Grant tell?
LL: I need so many things from him [Grant].

I’m still working on the details – it is WIP – but the thought of what I’m trying to achieve helps me focus on each scene as a linked and necessary part of the story.

It also helps shorten the beginning and the end of scenes, and makes me get to the point. Without the specific written focus in my template, I tend to wander, decorating the beginning with setting and other description – all of which, if necessary, can come later, after the reader is committed to reading the scene.

And all of which, if necessary, can be cut.

Since I tend to write very long, including everything that might be relevant, this is good practice: FOCUS, Alicia. FOCUS.

Curiously enough, having a good strong beginning and end, and something important happening in the middle, doesn’t hurt the actual word production, possibly because the brain knows exactly which muscles to attach to which parts of the skeleton to get it to move.

BTW, I now have the WIP in Scrivener, and I’m dividing up the various parts of the template into the attached subdocuments Scrivener provides, such as the Synopsis card. But that’s material for another post.



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