Every Scene Should Count
Every scene should drive your novel forward. If a scene doesn't, it should be removed or revised. Today's exercise will help you focus on each scene to ensure the scene has a purpose and that it moves your story forward. Said another way, each scene should have a mini-arc to be effective. The arc will be made up of an Action, a Reaction, and a New Action.
An action, whether it is external or internal to your main character, will cause your character to react, and then a new action will carry the character (and your reader) forward. Let's think for a moment what kinds of actions make our characters react.
In each case above, the main character is going to need to react to the situation that has been placed before them, and after they react, they will need to formulate a new plan to move forward. Any scene which is missing one of these three parts is lacking its purpose within the story.
You could look back at your Chapter Summary (see Day 5) but I like to do this step independently of that analysis simply because, by this point, I know my story so well inside and out that I'm looking for any way that helps me see the scenes with fresh eyes. Also, this analysis may have more rows in the table than the Chapter Summary if your chapters are made up of more than one scene.
You should do this exercise by using both your memory of what you wanted or thought you needed to accomplish in each scene plus a review to confirm you did what you set out to do.
Exercise: Complete the Purposeful Scenes Worksheet
If you are creating your notes in your OneNote Novel Editing notebook, follow these steps to complete the exercise:
Setting Characteristic Parameters
From memory, complete the information in the columns from SCENE to READER RESPONSE.
Scene - Write in the chapter number and scene number o the scene. I like to use a shorthand notation of C1S1 which represents Chapter 1 Scene 1. Optionally, you can use a short description.
Purpose - In the most concise possible way, note the purpose of the scene. The most common include:
Focal Character - Not every scene will necessarily focus around your character, so note in the Focal Character column who is the character being changed or challenged. (Think about a Darth Vader scene. He's the main character in the scene who's being challenged by the rebels.) It's important to know, a setting can also be a character, so if you have a setting that is going through a change, put the name of the setting here. (More about setting as a character is coming soon.)
Element of Change - Write in what about the focal character is meant to change. The list here is a short list, but it should give you an idea of how you should be thinking about the element of change.
Reader Response - Think about how the change should affect the reader. What is the emotional or empathetic response you are hoping to evoke? Again, this is a short list only meant to set you thinking on the right path.
The last three columns should be completed by re-reading your scenes as a fact-finding mission as you did earlier with the outlining worksheets in Days 3 - 7. Don't do these from memory because the goal should be to make sure you haven't forgotten or accidentally missed anything while writing.
Action - Write in the internal or external action that prompts the focal character in the scene to act. In the scene mentioned above with Darth Vader, it might be one of his lieutenants telling him the rebels are moving forward.
Reaction - Write in the character's reaction to the action with which they have been presented.
New Action - Note the new course of action that the character is taking. The action plus the reaction should lead the character down a new path or reinforce the previous path with new determination.
Analysis of your Purposeful Scene worksheet
As you work through your scenes, you may start to see weak spots that are easily fixed or you may get a sense that something is wrong but still be unsure what that something is exactly. The following questions can help you analyze what you filled in and provide some clues about repairing a scene without much purpose. In some cases, you may realize you don't need the scene after all.
DOWNLOAD: Purposeful Scene Worksheet
Tips for working by hand
If you'd like to work on notepaper or set up your own table in your favorite application, include the columns listed above for each table. It will work best if you set the page up in the landscape orientation. The percentage listed is approximately the size you should make each column. You may even want to set the table up across two sheets of paper to give yourself enough room for each column.
Return to the Table of Contents
Go to Day 12 - Overall Chapter Pacing