You know those scenes that pop into your head, but don’t quite fit with your work in progress? Those random lines of dialogue or tidbits of action? I believe those bits of inspiration are the jelly to the jam of your WIP. (Is that an expression? It is now.)
For me, these inspirations are often short scenes featuring my characters interacting with situations or other characters that wouldn’t fit in my work in progress. Sometimes as little as 50 words, sometimes as long as 2000 words, these scenes are some of the most fun things to write because there’s freedom knowing it can stay in first draft form tucked away in a notebook no one will ever see.
But these scenes are also invaluable to your writing.
First of all, scenes are short. They don’t have to take a lot of time or commitment–it isn’t a full-fledged story. They can be serious or silly. They are a great way to keep working on a project when the story gets stuck. You can use them for brainstorming or as a writer’s block remedy.
These scenes let you see your character or world in a new light. As often is their nature, the inspirations don’t work with the flow of your plot, but writing about your character interacting with an event that may never occur allows you to see your character reacting and behaving in new and unexpected ways. This is extremely helpful when you run into a scene where you aren’t quite sure how the main character might react.
Writing these scenes also helps to push the development of your characters as you aren’t confined to the chapters of your WIP. Perhaps the scene happens before or after the timeline of your story, or even not at all. By increasing the frequency in which you write your characters you are able to get to know your character more intimately and become more familiar with their particular voice.
Furthermore, because there is no pressure to add these scenes into a novel, it’s fun to try new things with the characters. For me, I like to try new endings. Instead of happily ever after, what if someone gets stabbed, or disappears, or turns to the dark side? By writing scenes you can try all these possibilities and even if you still end up choosing happily ever after, you’ve seen how your character could be tainted by these possible timelines.
What if your character had a new fear, an alter ego, a secret crush? Sky’s the limit with what you can try while writing these scenes.
But the best part about the scenes is when you hit gold. You write a scene and just know it belongs–somehow, somewhere–in your project. I rarely can simply copy/paste scenes into my WIPs, but when I write one that really resonates, I find a way to get the essence of that scene into the story, even if its just a few sentences.
What if you’ve never written a scene like this before? How does one go about it?
I’m glad you asked, dear reader. The short answer: any way you want. The long answer: Still any way you want, but here are a few tips to get you started:
I like prompts. More often than not I start with a photo or dialogue prompt. In fact, I made a whole pinterest board dedicated to just that. This board has a photo or dialogue prompt for everyday of the year. Try a couple on for size.
As a fantasy writer, many of the prompts will naturally lean toward the fantastic. If that’s not your taste, I encourage you to create a board for yourself and send me a link so I can see what inspires you!
Then you write. I normally do scenes on paper rather than typing. And I like to give my brain free reign within one of two conditions. A timer or a length. Sometimes I’ll write for 15 minutes and stop when the timer stops. Other times, I choose a notebook of moleskine-ish size and write only one page.
While writing, forget about spelling or grammar or anything that looks like style. This is just you, your characters and a piece of inspiration you are trying to pin down with words. I don’t use dialogue tags. I barely use paragraphs. It’s true free-form, first draft words.
Then you keep it. Read it a couple of times. Read it when you’re stuck, read it when you need some inspiration. Try to see it from new angles. Could this be another character’s experience? Would this scene benefit my story? Could I put the essence of this into my WIP? Sometimes the answers are yes and sometimes no. But that’s the beauty of scene writing.
No expectation, no disappointment, just words and phrases put together in a burst of inspiration.
Have a scene you’ve written? I’d love to read it! Put it in the comments or send it to me through my contact page.
Be on the lookout for a couple of my own scenes to be posted under the Chiante’s Writing page.
Feature photo courtesy of @canon_photographyshots