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Imagine being invited to a grand party. It's promised to be in a ballroom with a twenty piece ensemble orchestra. Hundreds of the most important people are supposed to be there and you've been invited too!
Then you show up. A tumble weed is blowing across the dusty dance floor. The stands are empty, there are no guests and the tables that should be loaded with food and punch are curiously absent. Then you look down. Yep. You forgot your pants.
So okay, this is more nightmare than novel. But be forewarned, you might send your character onto the stage with no clothes if you aren't careful in setting up and maintaining your scenes!
When you sit down to write, many of us just write, am I correct? If you're any kind of self-respecting panster you feel your way through the scene and discover the story as you go. If you're a die-hard plotter then you know exactly where your character is going to put his or her foot in an exact moment. No matter how you write, asking yourself these couple key questions will help steep you in the scene and prepare the way.
Who: This might seem simple, but know who you are writing the scene about. Your characters. Their motivation, goals, conflict. What do THEY want out of the scene. What do YOU as the author want to accomplish in the scene? Pit these goals against each other and see which one wins. ;-) The lie the character believes should drive them through every scene and what decisions they make within them. Write these things for both of your characters and put them where they are plainly visible. Taking a quick glance at these goals will put the story back into respective for you as the author.
What: What is going on? Are they at a gala? A park? A ball game? The kitchen? Work? Now: WHAT are they doing? Cooking? Sitting on those awful park benches? How is that affecting your character? Is she enjoying that cool breeze and the smell of popcorn from the neighboring vendor? Or is she craving the ice cream from the truck pedaling through town? What is your character's attitude in this scene and how does her surroundings impact or change her point of view?
Where: Where are they? This ties in closely with What. But is very important that you don't shirk the duty of this task. Dressing the scene is as important as dressing your character. We don't want the characters to simply be talking heads in the scene. Have them interacting with their surroundings. How they close the door, slam the coffee pot, clench the dish rag, all speaks for body language and puts your reader in the middle of the scene. (can you tell that many of my scenes in my latest WIP took place in the kitchen?) To get in this head of crafting your setting, think of your most comfortable spot in your home. The place you feel the most competent. For me, it's the kitchen. I know every utensil in that room and how to use them. I can come up with all kinds of tension in that room and how it plays with the character's body language. Incidently, it plays a pretty big role in my latest story. What's the room you're the most comfortable in? Maybe it's your sewing room, so go in there, close the door and imagine a confrontation taking place. How would the setting work with the mood of the character?
When: Don't write a modern day story that could be misconstrued to be set in the 50's. That's what was told of me when I had a friend read my first three chapters. Um...oops! No, my story is very much a modern tale. So I had to think in terms of including the occasional modern slang. The mention of electronics that ground the moment in today's era. Don't be afraid to use these tools to subtly clue your reader into the time and moment.
Why: WHY are you writing this story? What about is making these characters push their way through the story to get to their happily ever after? An HEA is often not good enough for your characters, not when they can give up half way through and deal with an average existence So ask yourself: What is your characters dark moment? Wound from their past? The lie they believe? And their noble quest? Keep these key points directly in view of where you write and when you lose contact with your direction and wonder if emotions are staying true to their motivation and lie, then look at the answers to these questions and you'll be back to the WHY of your story.
Jotting just a couple ideas down when it comes to these concepts listed above will give you a jump start into the scene and will only take 15 minutes to complete.
Let's talk: What are you doing already to set up your scene?
Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more populated with cows than people.