Welcome to the 6th installment of the Thriller Outlining Series. It’s time to write your outline.
Since we began this series, we’ve taken your idea from concept all the way through the major parts of story structure as taught by Larry Brooks. Now, in this post, we’re going to develop your idea into a full-blown outline by creating and adding scenes.
Scene: A sequence of events without a sudden jump in time, location, or point-of-view.
As you’re likely aware, there are several different options for creating scenes from your work. What I’m going to show you is a mash of processes I’ve pulled from my favorite story structure teachers and writers.
(Affiliate Disclaimer: This blog post uses affiliate links. If you click on a link and purchase a book or product, I will earn a small commission.)
We’re going use information from James Scott Bell’s: Plot & Structure to help us understand the two types of scenes and their best definitions.
We’re going to use two of Fiction Formula’s vault templates to determine how many scenes your novel may need and what type of scene’s you should include.
We’re going to learn what questions we need to ask ourselves using K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel Workbook.
Scene and Sequel
James Scott Bell wrote a scene is a “…fictional unit. If you can string scenes together and they somehow relate, you can write a novel. If you can make each one of your scenes truly unforgettable, you can write an unforgettable novel.”
So what does Bell mean when he says we need to “string” scenes together so they “relate.” Well, he is referring to the two types of scenes: scene and sequel (sometimes referred to as action and reaction).
Before we go too far, you may be thinking we now have three different types of scenes. We do, and we don’t. Let me clarify.
In a novel there are scenes. These are a sequence of events without a sudden jump in time, location, or point-of-view as defined above.
There are also scene and sequel. Maybe whoever thought of this second and third term could have spent a little more time coming up with another name, but they didn’t, so we’re stuck with it.
A scene (within the scene-sequel sequence) is a goal-conflict-disaster unit.
A sequel (within the scene-sequel sequence) is a reaction-dilemma-decision unit.
Both follow a formula. (goal-conflict-disaster) and (reaction-dilemma-decision).
The formulas for scene and sequel are the guidelines to Bell’s comment of how to “string” scenes together so they “relate.” So let’s define the formulas.
Goal: The purpose of a scene is your character’s goal. Define that goal early in the scene.
Conflict: An obstacle between your character and their scene goal.
Disaster: A disaster is a setback for your character that prevents him from achieving his scene goal
Reaction: Your characters emotional response to the disaster from the previous scene.
Dilemma: Your character has a new problem as a result of the disaster and must think or analyze their next move.
Decision: Your character makes a decision on how to react to the disaster. The action your character takes begins a new scene sequel sequence.
As you can see, the scene-sequel sequence is an excellent blueprint of how to string together your story, so it makes sense to the reader. But there is one small caveat we should deal with before we move on.
Not all scenes (within the scene-sequel sequence) take one scene (a sequence of events without a sudden jump in time, location, or point-of-view). As not all sequels (within the scene-sequel sequence) take one scene (a sequence of events without a sudden jump in time, location, or point-of-view).
That’s to say, your entire novel is not going to look like this:
scene-sequel-scene-sequel-scene-sequel-scene-sequel…and so on.
Remember a scene as defined as a sequence of events without a sudden jump in time, location, or point-of-view is just that. But a scene (within the scene-sequel sequence) follows a formula where your main character may move to another place or take a more extended period of time to complete, and due to that time, if you will, by definition sets another scene (a sequence of events without a sudden jump in time, location, or point-of-view).
So….your novel may look like this.
Confused? I was too. But to make it easier to understand, just keep the definitions of scene and scene and sequel available to you as you write. It will become second nature in no time at all.
How Many Scenes Should You Have?
Simple answer. Download the Novel Planning Template in the vault. With a few simple calculations, you’ll have an approximate scene count for your novel.
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Every scene needs tension, either from conflict or inner turmoil. You can create turbulence by determining a scene or character objective. Once you have a goal, you can build from there. To help you build out a scene, we have a two-fold approach.
The first is a focused approach by scene using the 10 Scene Template Checklist from the Fiction Formula vault. If you haven’t done so already, download the 10 Scene Template from the vault. The second is series of fundamental questions that I pulled from K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel Workbook.
With the 10 Scene Template opened, determine what type of scene your novel calls for. Obviously, if you are working from the beginning of your book, you’ll use the “first scene template.” If you’re working on a suspense scene, you’ll use the “suspense scene checklist.”
Work through the series of questions in the appropriate scene template. Once you’re finished, move on to K.M. Weiland’s questions below:
How does this scene lead to the next scene?
How vital is this scene to the story? If you want to know whether or not a scene is critical, ask yourself this question if you delete the scene, will the story still work? Does the story make sense without it?
Why does this scene matter to you?
Why will this scene matter to readers?
What new information does this scene introduce?
What old information does this scene reiterate?
Do this for every scene and sequel in your novel while keeping the focus of the goal-conflict-disaster and reaction-dilemma-decision formulas. It may feel cumbersome or awkward to start, but you’ll get the hang of it.
After you’ve completed the work in this post, you’ll have one of the most complete novel outlines on the planet today. No joke. Your outline will be ridiculously complete and ready for your first draft. Next weeks post is the final in the thriller outlining series where I’ll provide some simple tricks and techniques I use to write the first draft. Now, get to work on building the scenes! It’s a ton of work, but just as satisfying as the day you finish your first draft!