Wednesday, June 30, 2010


In his book, THE FIRE IN FICTION*, Donald Maass has this to say:

"Scenes that are written in the normal flow of accumulating pages may be fine but often will lack focus."

Truer words have never been spoken. Which is just one of the reasons I love revision. I think of the discovery draft as not only discovering what my story is about, but also about CREATING the material I will use in building the actual story. So the first/discovery draft is never (for me) the story; just the raw ingredients for a story.

The second draft is always about structure, about hammering out the best, most compelling structure of the book and deciding what should happen when for the biggest impact.

And then I look at scenes to be certain they are all doing what they are supposed to do: moving the story forward.

I have recently created a scene revision template which I am finding immensely helpful in this process, so I thought I would share it here. (It's compiled from stuff I've read in Maass's book, which I can't recommend highly enough**)

One of the things I've always stumbled over with scene revision is the question you are always told to ask: What is the goal of this scene. That always seems far too direct to me, too spot on, and, for me, risks pulling all the nuance and obliquity from a scene.

Instead, I ask what is the point of the scene. Why is it there? That way I can determine if it is earning it's place in the book, but not approach the problem too head on. Then the following template helps me shape it so that the point of the scene doesn't get lost. So my template looks like this:

What is the point of the scene?

What changes?

When does it change?

How does it change the POV character? (This is a biggy--the axis of the scene. Because pretty much everything should either contribute to or lead away from that.)

What are three visible or audible details of that moment of change?

Create hints that the protagonist will get what they want. Also build reasons to believe they won't. (This is a great reminder to me to keep supplying the reader with dramatic questions, even at the scene level.)

What are some sensory details of this scene? What are details that only my protagonist would observe or notice? (I am particularly fond of this question because it forces me to go deep inside my character's worldview.)

And that's it. Once I've answered those questions, I have a very distinct shape and structure to the scene and can go in and revise with abandon. Okay, maybe not with abandon, but at least with a much clearer vision of what the scene should be doing...

*I originally mistyped that as THE IRE IN FICTION and it cracked me up so much I was half tempted to leave it.

**I adore his WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL for the initial brainstorming of a book and TFIF for shaping it.


Paula said...

Great advice. I just received D.M's book, glad to hear you found it helpful.

Robin L said...

I swear by his books, PaulaKay!

Alexandra said...

I have both of Maass' books, but this is a lovely little cheat sheet, thank you!

Robin L said...

So glad it looks useful to you, Alexandra!

Anonymous said...

This is great--thanks! *bookmarks*

Deva Fagan said...

Bookmarking this for after I finish drafting the current WIP!

I need to get a copy of TFIF -- I have BREAKOUT and found it really helpful. In fact, I should probably take another look through it before I start drafting my next project!

Good luck with your revising!

Robin L said...

So glad it looks helpful to you, Christy!

Deva, I've also created a little cheat sheet from THE BREAKOUT NOVEL that I use whenever I'm starting a project, just to be sure I'm covering all the bases. Love his books. Don't know what he's like as an agent, but he's brilliant at craft analysis.