plot development

NaNoWriMo Tips: How Many Ways to Write a Scene

A novel is a collection of scenes, held together by chapters. During NaNoWriMo, you will write dozens of scenes, each one adding to the plot, taking the reader, and your characters, on a journey.

Think about a single scene. How many ways can you write it?

Let’s set the stage. A woman is sitting in her car in rush hour traffic, going nowhere. The man in the car next to her turns his head and looks at her.

How many ways can we tell this story?

  • From the perspective of the woman?
  • From the perspective of the man?
  • From onlookers watching the two from their cars?
  • What if it is hot out and their windows are open?
  • What if it is cold and they have to wipe the condensation from the window to even see each other?
  • What if one of their cars has smoke or steam coming out from under the hood?
  • What if one has a coffee cup or a lunch bag on the roof of their vehicle?
  • What if one vehicle has a low tire?
  • What if one of the car is an expensive luxury car and the other isn’t?
  • What if one of them is poor and just evicted from their home and their car is their only safe place?
  • What if they know each other?
  • What if they knew each other as teenagers?
  • What if they are married?
  • What if they were married and just drove away from the lawyers office after signing the divorce papers, and each are the last person they want to see?
  • What if there is a dog in one car?
  • What if one of them is depressed?
  • What if one of them just got a raise and is overexcited?
  • What if one really likes the look of the other?

We could go on and on with all of the perspectives, points of view, and what ifs.

What if the scene is critical to the story, and you don’t want to go off on a bunch of wild “what if” theories. How could you tell the story differently and keep the story line the same?

  • What is the emotional state of the characters? Can you change one or both of them?
  • What is around them that they have to or might interact with? A gear shift? Squeaking brakes? The steering wheel? How would they handle it?
  • Use your senses. What do they smell, feel, temperature, body pains, body positions, hear, see? Which details add or subtract from the scene?
  • What if you threw another character into the mix? A person pops up in the backseat or someone honks behind them? How will each character respond?
  • Can you show the scene from the perspective of a memory?
  • What if they are anticipating seeing each other in traffic and it hasn’t happened?

Other than changing the location, time, and weather, brainstorm all the different ways you could write the scene and then pick from these when it is time to edit – in December.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

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NaNoWriMo Tips: What Ifs

If you get stuck in NaNoWriMo, bring out your what ifs.

What if questions can be fun. They can break the writing rut and break open your imagination.

Begin by looking for opposites. Identify your characters strengths and weaknesses and consider how they would behave if they were switched, their strengths suddenly became weaknesses. If it is raining in the scene, make it sunny and dry, just to see how the characters would behave if the weather was different.

Change locations. What if this scene happened in the middle of the night on top of a skyscraper? Or early morning in a car park? Or instead of the desert, deep in a forest? What would change? Would the characters behave different? Would the story change? Sure, it would, but how?

What if your character was different? Instead of skinny, was obese? Instead of Latino, was Russian?

Then ask yourself other what ifs like:

  • What if the characters knew each other in grade school?
  • What if they were meeting for the first time and had no history?
  • What if their parents were in the room?
  • What if they never completed high school?
  • What if their life was really a lie?
  • What if their next actions would get them put into the witness protection program?
  • What if their parents died when they were young?
  • What if their parents died in a crash two weeks ago?
  • What if one parent was a philanderer?
  • What if one or more of the characters escaped from a cult in their past?
  • What if the character decided to give up everything they had, their life, work, everything, to join a cult?
  • What if the character lost everything and became homeless?

The what ifs can go on forever. Some lead from one thought to other, so keep writing out your what ifs before you start answering them. Pick one or two when you are ready and write them up. It could get your writing juices flowing again, and possibly help you understand your characters and the story better.

It could also lead to a sequel. Never know.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: The Thing in the Room

At a Willamette Writers Conference one year, Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, was a keynote. She spoke about how she will start writing a scene based upon elements found in the location she is writing about. While she might not use the item, this technique often helps her get her writing juices flowing through a series of questions and answers to describe the place, the moment, and the characters.

She spoke about how she collects auction house catalogs associated with the time period and cultural elements of her books. She will pull one out and flip through it, looking for things that could be in the room with her character. In her example, she chose an amber crystal vase.

In her mind, she put it in the room, but had to debate with herself where in the room it should go. On the window sill? On a shelf? On the desk? She chose the desk.

What color amber was it? Was it deep or light colored? Where was the light coming from that illuminated it, or was it in the shadows? She chose the light coming from the window shining on it.

If the light was coming from the window, then what time of day was it? Where was the light positioned? What color was the light? Was it strong or filtered? What was outside that would block the light, or be clear for the light to pass through?

Returning to the vase, she looked at it in her mind. Why would it be on the desk? Did it have historical significance? Personal significance? Who put it there? Was it the main character, the spouse, housekeeper, or possibly a decorator and it had no significance at all to the character? If it had significance, what is its story?

What is it made of? Is it truly crystal from stone or cut from glass? Who made it? Does it matter who made it to the character or the story?

Is it on a pedestal or plate or just sitting on the desk? What is the desk made of? Why? Was that a good material to choose? Where is there light on the desk? From outside or is there a lamp? What kind of lamp? Where is it? What fuels it? What does it look like…

Where is the character? Is he sitting at the desk? Standing next to it? Is he looking at the object? Why? What does he see when he looks at it? What does it remind him of? What is he thinking as he looks at it?

You get the picture, and that is what she does, she creates the picture from an object and keeps going, testing it out on the character, fleshing out the scene in and around the object. It isn’t about the object but the object helps to define the scene and the character, making the scene come alive through this brainstorming series of questions, each one building upon the other.

Think of a thing in the scene with your character and go through the same process. Keep asking questions, building the scene piece by piece, including light, sound, texture, pattern, smells, all the elements around the character, then paint that picture with your words.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: The Ticking Clock

The Ticking Clock is a writer’s device to add tension to a scene or the plot. The clock is ticking, time is running out, the character(s) are up against a deadline and there is no escaping the ticking of the clock.

If you are having trouble writing ticking clock scenes in your plot, here are some questions to consider.

  • How long do the characters have? How much time are you going to give them to succeed before the clock runs out?
  • Could you shorten the time period? To what?
  • What does the character need to accomplish within that time frame?
  • What amount of time would it normally take to accomplish the task?
  • Why is the time period so short?
  • What does the character(s) need to do to “stop the clock?”
  • What will prove that the task is complete and the clock will stop?
  • What are the consequences of failure?
  • What will the character(s) lose?
  • What can go wrong?
  • Will one or more people die?
  • What are the physical obstacles in the way of stopping the clock?
  • What are the psychological obstacles (fears, dreams, risks) to stopping the clock?
  • How does the character(s) handle obstacles (physical and psychological)?
  • How does the race to beat the clock show the character(s) strengths and weaknesses?
  • How long does it take to overcome each obstacle?
  • How does the tension (suspense) grow as the deadline approaches?
  • What are the “cliffhangers” as the character(s) overcome each obstacle?
  • Does stopping the clock start another ticking clock? Is there another task the character(s) must tackle?
  • When all clocks have stopped ticking, then what? How has the character(s) changed? What is next?

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.