So, I finished my “outline” of T.J.’s Story (such as it is), and guess what? Just because I list things like “listens to Sam’s message on the answering machine” in chapter 1 or “visits Gram in the nursing home” in chapter 3 or “Sam wonders why T.J. calls home so much” in chapter 14 doesn’t mean these are actual SCENES! So what are they if they aren’t “scenes?” What IS a scene, anyway? I decided to reread Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure to find out.

In case you’re interested, a scene (according to Bickham) is “a segment of story action, written moment-by-moment, without summary, presented onstage in the story ‘now.’ It is NOT something that goes on inside a character’s head; it is physical.”

Hmm. Interesting.

Bickham goes on to say that a scene needs to have a statement of goal, there needs to be some introduction and development of conflict, and then you can’t allow your main character to attain his/her scene goal. He/she must leave the scene in worse shape than he/she was in when he/she began the scene.

So, what’s actually going on in T.J.’s Story? Forget what’s going on inside her head…what’s happening on stage in the here and now? I decided to take Bickham’s advice and list each of my scenes on a note card. Each note card lists the scene goal, who is in conflict with T.J., where the conflict is occurring, the twists/turns that occur during the scene and finally the “disaster” at the end of the scene. (I have to admit there aren’t as many of these cards as there should be…)

The first half of the book is okay. In fact, this little exercise has shown me the first half of the book is actually better than I thought it was in terms of scene development. I do have actual scenes…with goals, twists/turns and disasters. Things are happening. And the scenes are even strung together with cause and effect (yes, I do actually know something about writing a novel). But it all sort of falls apart halfway through the book. I don’t have scenes anymore halfway through…

The question is why not???


2 thoughts on “Scenes

  • December 12, 2007 at 12:59 am


    Ah, interesting. I tried notecards, too, and hated them and that’s when I went to the spreadsheet.

    Sandra Scofield, in her book Scenes, says to figure out the occasion, what is the event happening. Then the actions. That seems to help. So, you might have a spelling bee as the occasion, but the actions are that a girl has fainted.

    Plus about halfway through, you could look at previous settings and see if you can re-use any.

    But why does it fall apart here? Maybe the complexity is too much to hold in your head at one time?

    Or, it is spaghetting because some element has gone an odd direction and you need to back up and sort that out?

    Good luck!

    • December 12, 2007 at 3:01 pm

      Re: scenes

      I’m still deciding whether I like note cards. You’ve done a spreadsheet??? Like in Excel? I don’t think I’ve seen one of your spreadsheets, have I? I’m pretty sure I would’ve remembered…can you send me an example so I can see how you did it? (I’m at that stage where I’m willing to try ANYTHING to figure out this story…)

      I’ve heard of the Scofield book (probably from you?), but haven’t actually read it. It sounds like it takes a slightly different approach than Bickham takes?

      Why is my book falling apart in the middle? Part of the problem is I wrote the first draft as part of NaNoWriMo and just tried a few different things…different directions, I mean…and now I actually have to PICK which direction to go.

      A bigger problem is T.J. is finding things out and she’s trying to prevent the people around her from finding something out (i.e. she’s got a secret)…but she isn’t really DOING anything. She’s REacting rather than acting. And I’m not sure how to fix that.

      Problem #3, which has become obvious since reading the Bickham book is I think I have a lot of sequels in this part of the book, but very few scenes.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *