Cara Langston


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How to draft a scene in 5 easy steps

 

HowtoDraftaScene

Lack of inspiration. Every writer struggles with it. If you’re like me and trying to write an 80,000+ word novel, you’ve probably struggled with it more than once.

Let’s face it–some scenes are simply easier to write than others. The ones with dramatic shouting matches are my favorite. I can sit down at my laptop and, without distractions, crank that baby out in a few hours. But out of hundreds of scenes in my book, only three involve shouting.

The most difficult part of creating a first draft is getting words on paper. Once the words are there, you can edit them to your heart’s content. But what happens when the cursor is blinking on a new page? When you have no idea how to begin?

I like to take a step-by-step approach, creating a base and then building onto it, as I’ll illustrate below.

Step 1: Add dialogue

I’ve found this to be the easiest way to put words on the page. We engage in dialogue every day. Dialogue is casual. You can write in incomplete sentences and use simple words. Don’t worry about tags yet. Just write the dialogue.

Here’s a very short scene I created with only dialogue:

“I thought you wouldn’t make it.”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Don’t sound so excited.”
“Babe, I’m sorry. It’s been a crazy day at the office.”

Step 2: Identify the characters

Your reader needs to know who is speaking. This can be done through dialogue tags or adjacent character actions. As a reader myself, I’ve found the best scenes employ both types, but sparingly.

“I thought you wouldn’t make it,” Alexa said, her voice tight.
Her husband shrugged. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Don’t sound so excited.”
“Babe, I’m sorry. It’s been a crazy day at the office.”

Step 3: Describe physical actions

The next layer involves physical descriptions, beyond what you might have added in Step 2 to identify the characters. This is when I pretend my scene is being played out on film. I can see that Character A reaches out her hand. I can see that Character B frowns in displeasure. This is where the scene starts to come to life.

He tossed his laptop bag into the corner of the booth, no concern for the equipment inside.
“I thought you wouldn’t make it,” Alexa said, her voice tight. She put down her book and managed a smile.
Her husband shrugged. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Don’t sound so excited.”
He reached for her hand. “Babe, I’m sorry. It’s been a crazy day at the office.”

Step 4: Depict the setting

Now that we’ve focused on our characters, let’s step back and figure out where we are. Assuming this is a new setting, we need to add some description of the environment. This where you can start using the five senses. If our characters are in a diner, do they smell bacon? Did they see the waitress spill the coffee on her apron in the corner? Can they hear the cash register dinging? Maybe the booth is a little bit sticky from syrup, and the coffee is bitter.

 A baby shrieked from across the diner, and Alexa flipped the page of the novel she was failing to read.
He tossed his laptop bag into the corner of the booth, no concern for the equipment inside.
“I thought you wouldn’t make it,” Alexa said, her voice tight. She put down her book and managed a smile.
Her husband shrugged. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Don’t sound so excited.”
He reached for her hand. “Babe, I’m sorry. It’s been a crazy day at the office.”

*I admit to being a little lazy with the setting in this example . . .

Step 5: Narrate any internal emotions

I find this part to be the most difficult, so I often leave it for last. If you’re writing in first person or deep third person POV, your main character likely has thoughts or feelings they might want to convey to the reader. This is a great way of incorporating background info, past histories, etc.

 A baby shrieked from across the diner, and Alexa flipped the page of the novel she was failing to read. What kind of mother brought an infant into a diner at eleven o’clock at night? If it was her child, it’d be sleeping peacefully inside its crib, the one made from polished acacia, the one that cost two grand, the one that sat in the empty room upstairs.

 Jason arrived. He tossed his laptop bag into the corner of the booth, no concern for the equipment inside. Typical.

“I thought you wouldn’t make it,” Alexa said, her voice tight. She put down her book and managed a smile.

Her husband shrugged. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Don’t sound so excited.”

He reached for her hand. His palms were warm and rough, a reminder of the days he used to spend in the field. “Babe, I’m sorry. It’s been a crazy day at the office.”

Now, I wouldn’t call that great writing by any means, but at least it’s a starting point. The scene began with four lines of generic dialogue and has grown to become an introduction into a childless married couple who, for some reason, are meeting at a diner late at night.

From here it can be culled or fleshed out.

From here–hopefully–your writing muse will find you again.

At least . . . this is what I do.


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50,000 words in 30 days? No thanks . . .

Today is the first day of November and with that comes NaNoWriMo. I must admit I didn’t know what this “word” stood for until two years ago, when I created my author Twitter account and followed many NaNoWriMo-ers. Before that, it just sounded like some hipster thing that I never had time to look up.

I’m sure anyone reading this blog will be familiar with the term, but if you are not (Mom, if you’re reading this), it stands for National Novel Writing Month. Writers, aspiring or professional, pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days, the goal being that by December 1, you should have written the majority of a first draft.

Am I participating in NaNoWriMo? Absolutely not.

Take, for example, my current work-in-progress novel, tentatively titled THE GLASSMAKER’S WIFE. As of this second, I have written 53,541 words. How long has it taken me? About 351 days from the beginning of my brainstorm until now.

NaNoWriMo sounds like a fun challenge; I simply believe my current writing process is unsuited for it. As much as I try to write my first draft as quickly as possible, under the premise that all first drafts are shit and I shouldn’t worry about inconsistencies right now, I’m too much of a perfectionist. I deleted 8,000 words in one sitting because my character’s personality changed and the chapters didn’t work anymore. Once I finish a chapter, I go back and edit. If I change a character’s history, I find every description or dialogue in previous chapters and fix it accordingly. It’s a slow process, but it works for me, especially now while I have no obligation to anyone but myself.

I do, however, wish all NaNoWriMo participants the best of luck! Maybe one day I’ll jump in. 🙂