Do you have trouble getting your chapters, let alone your scenes, to a word count or length that feels decent? Or maybe you feel that your scenes seem to be wasting space and fitting poorly in the structure of your book? These are only a few of the problems you may be having with scenes, and there is a simple solution to this.
Yes, plotting your scenes. I know, I know. To those of you who hate plotting or planning in any way, shape, or form, this probably sounds like a nightmare. A long time ago, I would’ve been with you. And I’d be having all the same problems you are too. So just hear me out on this. Give it a try and see how it can make a difference. If it doesn’t work, feel free to stop doing it. I don’t want you to waste your time. But you won’t know if it’ll help until you try, and my experience has been that most people I know (myself included) who have tried this, have found it useful.
So let’s take a look.
What Plotting Scenes Isn’t
First of all, I want to start by explaining that plotting scenes is not creating an entire path for your whole novel. While I often use the list of events that need to happen for my novel’s entire plot to develop a scene list and scene plots, it isn’t necessary to have it. Scene plotting is its own entity, even if it does work well with plotting the storyline.
Plotting scenes is also not a waste of time. Initially, when someone suggested I plot my scenes, I looked at them like they were nuts. Why would I want to do that? It took me extra time to sit down and think about it ahead of time like that. But as I started thinking about it, I decided, hey, why not give it a try? The writers who suggested it had mentioned it increased their scene length and made the scenes much more cohesive, so I figured trying couldn’t hurt.
And they were right.
I went from scenes that might be about 1,000 words max to scenes that could get to the 1,500 to 2,000 word range. My chapter lengths went from 2,000 words max to anywhere from 3,500 to 6,000 on the high end. So, I promise that it can work if it’s approached well.
What Is Scene Plotting?
Okay, so now that we’ve clarified what plotting scenes isn’t, we probably should know what it actually is. Scene plotting means figuring out what the scene’s main focus is, what the intention of the viewpoint character will be, and the main points of that scene that will get you from the beginning to the end. Sound like a lot of work?
Well, it can be. But I usually only spend fifteen minutes to get all of the scenes for two or three chapters done. And it saves me a lot of editing time later. How?
It does so in several ways.
First, it saves time because I already know what the focal point of the scene should be and can write it in a way that best shows that focus. Second, I also already know the main points of what will happen, so I just have to fill in the details. No more time spent staring at a screen wondering where I’m going next. I already know. Finally, I know who my viewpoint character is and what they’re attempting to achieve or what they want out of the scene. This saves time in editing later because I will have already included their motivations for the reader, and it will be clear what the character is driving at in the entire scene. No ambiguity or confusion left there as long as I actually pay attention to what I wrote down.
Handling Scene Plotting
There are a few ways you can handle plotting for scenes. Really, none of them are right or wrong. What you prefer to do will differ from others, and that’s fine. We all need different levels of detail and work to achieve our goals. However, there are some key things I have found that work, so I’ll go over those to give you a place you can start.
The first thing I always do is write down what chapter the scenes go to above the plotting. That way, when I go back to it later, I don’t have to try to figure out what it went to. After that, I always label my scenes with numbers in order so I never have to wonder where one scene ends and another begins.
When it comes to the actual plotting, I write a name for the scene next to my number so I have an idea of what the scene’s main point is. I also write in parentheses the name of the character who will be the viewpoint character. Under that, I also jot down what the character’s motivation is. Finally, I use bullet points and fill in the main points of the scene as it goes from start to end. This can be done with sentences or sentence fragments. Whatever will be enough to jog your memory later.
You can do this chapter-by-chapter or all at once. I usually like to have a good number of chapters all plotted out so that I don’t have to take time to do it at the beginning of every writing session, but whatever you prefer is fine. There isn’t really a right way or a wrong way on this one.
The last thing that you should make sure of in your plotting of scenes is this: every scene must reveal to the reader something they didn’t already know. It may only be a new angle on an old fact that will be important later, but some new piece of information should be revealed. Characters should grow closer or further apart. Evidence should turn up that wasn’t there before. Clues should be discovered. New enemies or threats might appear. These are all just a few of the types of new information that might be revealed to a reader. So skim over your scene and ask whether or not it serves a purpose and whether or not it reveals anything new. If it doesn’t do either, you need to cut it. If it serves a purpose but doesn’t reveal anything new, you need to add more and keep writing until something new is there.
Initially, plotting scenes might seem a bit over-the-top. However, it really does save time and makes sure your scenes aren’t filler material that doesn’t and shouldn’t need to be there. If you’re a pantser instead of a plotter, I understand why you might not want to do this. But I really do recommend it. I know pantsers who have effectively worked this method in with their other methods of writing and discovered it helped tremendously. Give it a try and see if it works for you. You never know!