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How to Write a Novel in Six Months, Week Seven: Detail Scene Beats

Updated on September 4, 2008

Detail scene beats? What is that supposed to mean? Okay, I admit I don't actually know what that means, but it's the way I'm describing the next layer after the initial outlining. We all know there's supposed to be this climactic structure to a novel, but apparently that also flows down to the chapter and scene level. And if you're writing suspense - down to each and every page.

Action vs. Reaction

In The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, Evan Marshall distinguishes between two types of sections, or scenes. There's the action sequence and then the reaction. Action of course is needed to move the plot along. Reaction gives the reader a chance to understand the character better and gives a rest from all that action. You're going to distribute these type of scenes according to the genre you're writing and what makes sense as you begin drafting.

For my awesome spreadsheet (you know you want one!) I followed Marshall's basic plan about where to put a few of the reaction scenes. I don't plan to have too many of these, because my genre and style allow me to load any narrative with plenty of character.

Structuring Scenes

Mike Klassen has a wonderful blog about writing fiction. His terms for Marshall's action and reaction are scene and sequel. I'm not sure who came up with this idea originally, but I like how Klassen lays it out. Here's my summary of how to structure your scenes (or whatever you want to call them!):

Scene (or Action Section)

1. Set up point of view, setting, including time, and relation to the last scene or sequel.

2. Establish character motivation to achieve a specific goal.

3. Let the reader know the stakes, what happens if the character fails.

4. Put an obstacle in the character's path to achieve the goal.

5. Add more complications and/or let the character fail repeatedly.

6. Confine the character somehow to the situation, narrow the options.

7. The character tries yet again to overcome the problem, and this time (often his third attempt) and either succeeds or fails.

8. Resolution may be in the form of bittersweet success, outright failure, partial failure, or failure that leaves the character even farther from his goals than when the scene started. Eventually, you may want to reward your character and readers with outright success.

Sequel (or Reaction Section)

1. The resolution of the last scene determines your character's emotional state.

2. The character gains control of his feelings and reasons through the situation.

3. If appropriate, let the character review recent events.

4. Character analyzes facts and considers alternative courses of action available.

5. A plan is formulated.

6. The character must decide to take action on the plan.

7. The character acts in a way that sets up the next scene.

By following this logic, you get an arc to every scene. Now the trick is to put those scenes together into chapters that have the same effect. Whew! Can we do it? Yes we can!

If you're following Marshall's plan, he'd have you detail all this stuff right here and now in the planning stages. I'm not quite that structured. My plan is to get into this level of detail on a week-by-week basis. Because for crying out loud - how am I supposed to know how a character's going to react to something she finds in a drawer six months down the road (in novel time)? And frankly, some of this belongs in the drafting itself. Leave we nothing to chance?

However, I did go through on the spreadsheet and map out where several of the reaction scenes go and I'll add to that as I being to draft my synopsis!

How to Write a Novel in Six Months, One Writer's Journey

Week 1, Mapping Out the Six Month Plan

Week 2, Resources on Structure

Week 3, Index Cards Are My Friends

Week 4, Sketching Characters

Week 5, Researching Agents

Week 6, Outlining

Week 7, Detail Scene Beats

Week 8, Writing the Synopsis

Weeks 9 - 18, Drafting Updates

Week 19, Sanity Break

Week 20, Transitions

Week 21, Reading the Draft

Weeks 22 - 24 First Revision

Photo: nuanc,Flickr
Photo: nuanc,Flickr


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