what ifs

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.

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.