Writing a Great Scene

Have you ever had a scene in your head that just won’t go away?  It’s kind of like having that annoying tune running through your head that you can’t get rid of (usually something like Barney singing “I love you, you love me…)… oh dammit, not again!

What about if it’s well into your story and you’re not ready to write it yet?  I’ve read interviews from several professional writers who say that they don’t write their stories in sequence.  They do things kind of like film directors; everything with a certain setting or group of characters gets done at the same time regardless of where it fits into the actual story.  For them, writing out of order is natural (so they claim).

I don’t know about you, but I NEVER have a story so fully formed in my brain that I can write scenes out of order.  Usually when I try that, I end up with a terribly disjointed mess.  If you can do it, I tip my hand to you.  I guess I’ll just have to be satisfied with writing my stories linearly.  At least, for now.

So what to do?  Do you simply leave the story idea rattling around in your head until you get to it?  You could do that, I suppose.  It can definitely become a strong incentive to get writing just so you can get it down on paper.  Or you could try something different.  Here’s what I did for my book.

I had this great idea for a scene in my head (as opposed to having it in my spleen) that I thought would be fantastic.  It was a bar-fight where my two protagonists, who were very much at odds with each other, would get involved in a knock down, drag ‘em out fight that would bring them closer together.  I knew how I expected their relationship to be going into the scene and how I wanted it to be as they left it.  Sounds simple enough, right?

The problem was, I was at a point (writing point, that is) in my story where the two had only just met each other.  The bar fight was several chapters away.  Lots of stuff could happen in between.  Stuff that might make writing the scene out of sync a problem.

I was a bit unsure of what I should do with it.  On one hand, it was this really exciting idea that I couldn’t wait to put down on paper.  On the other, I knew whatever I wrote I might have to throw away because it conflicted with something that happened before.

I made a compromise.

I put down every single element of the scene that I thought was important down on paper in point form:  the protagonist’s relationship with each other before and after the fight, where it happened, how it happened and who was involved.  I even wrote a few sample paragraphs of the more exciting ideas (no sound effects though).  Lastly, I made sure that the scene tied into the overall storyline.

So what actually happened when I got to the bar fight?  As I expected, things had changed somewhat.  The character’s personalities were subtly different from what I expected and the relationship was different too.  Also, some of the fringe characters who I had initially envisioned as becoming part of the story never did more than get beat up in the fight and push my protagonists closer together.

It’s still one of my favorite scenes in the book and I did use most of the material I thought was important.  And I’m very glad that I didn’t fully write out the entire thing as I first planned to.

At the end of the day, it’s whatever works best for you.  If you’re able to write your story in bits and bites tying it all together into a nice package, do that.  If you’re like me and need to write in a more linear fashion, put down copious notes with a few “sound bites” to give flavor to the idea.  Once you get there you’ll be glad you did.


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