The scene header in the template contains critical information for me to situate the scene in time and space – and point of view.
Here is a sample:
Scene 10.1 – Karenna comes to set as Andrew’s guest; meets MH / pov Kary
1 pm; BH set in Hanover, NH; Kary, George, Michael / Wed., May 25, 2005
Before writing a scene I have to locate it in the space/time continuum of the story – someplace before the end and after the beginning.
The Scene Title, written with care, can serve to bring the whole scene back into my memory. I like to keep it to a similar length for each scene, for listing convenience. Brevity is more important than correct sentence structure – anyone who tweets has plenty of practice phrasing things economically.
A list of these headers (or of the information contained) serves me as a timeline. The title – and having this kind of a title for each scene – can point out continuity problems and plot holes.
Physical books (except Choose your own Adventure stories) appear in some kind of order on the page; even ebooks come at us in some order. Lists of header information helps me note such things as:
1) Too many scenes in a row from one point of view. If not deliberate, does it need fixing?
2) Simple stupid things like Wednesday May 25th is followed by Thursday May 23rd – because I changed the year in the story and haven’t cleaned up my calendar sequences.
3) Oops! George can’t be here – he already went back to Ireland.
4) If there are two scenes where ‘meets MH’ are listed, it may point out that I changed my mind as to when they met, and that I need to do some cleanup.
5) The story says it rained at noon and brought filming to a close, but this scene is listed as happening at 1 pm – I should either mention it stopped raining (and there was mud – they were filming outside), or write the scene in the rain.
In addition, keeping track of which characters are in a scene is very useful if I need to add an interaction between two characters that lets the reader in on a key piece of information; a list of places in my story where the two characters appear together in scenes gives me a choice of places to tuck in a nugget.
Having a list of several places where two characters could interact makes it easy for me to motivate a tricky action in a later scene by going back and putting in increasingly-obvious pointers for the reader, so that, when the motivation is needed, the reader remembers having seen something about this before. This keeps the tricky action from seeming to be added on randomly because the plot requires it. If I want Billy murdering Sue by the end of the story, I can show the enmity developing in increasingly acrid interactions. Otherwise, I have a long search through my manuscript and my memory.
I note whether characters appear physically in a scene, phone in (so they are actually interacting with someone in the scene), or are discussed by someone in the scene.
It doesn’t really matter when the Scene Header is completed, but it is worth my effort to make sure it stays accurate as I go along with the writing OR making sure it is current before revising.
One additional benefit: if I need to write a Synopsis, a list of scene headers reminds me of the major plot points and character interactions to tell the condensed version of the story.