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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Writing Scenes for Novels

Not long ago I suggested to one of my friends that she should capture any scene the moment it comes to her--whether or not she's working on that part of the story yet.

I'm talking about those snatches of dialogue that seem to come out of nowhere, those words and phrases which describe a background or portray a haunting idea.

My experience is that those original bits can never be duplicated. When I try to write them later, they either are stale or that perfectly smithed phrase is suddenly evading me.


  1. This struck such a chord! I SO do this all the time. It happens at the most inopportune times, and it's a race to the keyboard sometimes in order to "get it down" before I lose it. It happened yesterday in the shower! I've never dressed so fast in my life.

    I have little disjointed "miniscenes" throughout my manuscript, waiting to be tied in. It's so neat how they always slide right into place when it's time.

  2. I did this extensively while I was writing the first draft of my novel. It's a great way to capture the unexpected plot twists or insights into characters that emerge when I'm not concentrating on the story - something akin to that old suggestion about problem solving: "If you'll stop thinking about it, the answer will come to you."

    The challenge I face now is to fit all those random bits together into a coherent second draft. Mine are not 'sliding into place' neatly like Marcia Gruver's. It's taking a lot of trimming and fitting, but I'm happy to have the raw material to work with.

  3. That's how I write. I write linear when I can, but if something's bubbling up unexpectedly, it gets written, then dropped into the master file, approximately where I think it will fit. To be moved around later, if necessary. Never deny those sparks of inspiration!

    My master file consists of written scenes, chunks of detailed synopsis/outline, and small bits of dialogue and snips of characters interacting, all roughly in the right story order, which eventually become the finished first draft. I've tried keeping chapters in separate files, but I lose a sense of story flow that way.

    Makes for a big, cumbersome master file, but I give a temporary name to every chapter or chunk of scenes, which tends to stick in my mind, so hunting down a section is easy.

  4. I often "write" in my head when I'm doing something mindless (walking for exercise, for instance) and the juices are flowing. When I finally get to the keyboard and try to recapture the words, it never turns out quite the same. But sometimes it's better. And sometimes I realize my great inspiration wasn't all that great to begin with and I never use it at all. If it was good the first time around, it will come back to me later eventually.

  5. I keep note pads and pens everywhere: next to my bed, in the kitchen, family room - even in my car. When I am inspired, I just jot down my thoughts before I loose them. I'm still looking for a lighted pen, though. It's hard to write in the dark!


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