The Scene Outlining Method

The Scene Outlining Method

What’s up Padawan’s! Today I’ll be typing at you about my scene outlining process. I made this my next post because I covered my Plot Point Method last time, and in that post I mentioned my scene outlining. And instead of making you wait, I wanted to jump on it. It’s also because I’m in an especially good mood. The pancakes I made for breakfast this morning were very delicious. Yum.

You can think of scenes as mini-plots within themselves, because a strong scene should be structured like a little novel, with all the major plot points hit within it. Now scenes in themselves are something I’ll go in-depth later, because they’re more than just a grouping of words. A scene is a complex organism all to itself, with requirements and proper applications. But for now, I’ll just go into how I plot out individual scenes, because that’s the plan, Stan.

A scene is a sort of its own entity, a planet floating in a solar system, surrounded by other awesome planets, a life-giving sun, maybe a few annoying asteroids, a comet or two. Shit, should I have used a pancake analogy? Naw, this one works well.

So, every scene contains the same pieces of information, just presented in different ways, perspectives, or with new information. So what are those elements? I’m so glad you asked, Padawan.

  1. The protagonist’s goals. Now, in a dual (or more) perspective book, this expands to whoever is the POV of that scene.
  2. Antagonists and allies: Characters that are there to support or thwart (that sounds like the name of a kick ass heavy-metal band🤣) the protagonist goals. These are the landmasses of your planet.
  3. Momentum: Also called action, which can be presented as actual action or dialogue. If you can’t guess, this element is essential for giving the readers a sense of forward movement through time and space. If you have no action or momentum, then you have no scene. However, you can have a highly contemplative scene with no forward movement. But too many of these and you’ve dramatically altered your readers’ experience. But there are some genres, like literary fiction with more contemplative scenes. But that’s getting into nitty-gritty details. Think of this as your scene planet spinning through space.
  4. New plot information: This can be presented as either a reaction/consequence of a previous scene, or a new plot goal. Think of this as the individual elements needed to create your scene planet.
  5. Thematic imagery: This is the meaning of your story shown through images and sensory details. This is your scene planet gravity. It holds everything together, gives it more meaning than just random rocks flying through space.
  6. Tension: Tension is the feeling of conflict and uncertainty that keeps the reader wanting and guessing. Tension is a natural by-product if the three layers of scene, action, emotion and theme are present in every scene. This is like your scene planet’s atmosphere.

Write it downNow to get into my scene outlining process, as with my Plot Point Method, I do all my scene planning on paper. It makes it easier to see what elements I have, and how to connect them together in the right fashion.

First, I determine POV (Point Of View). This is who’s head we are going to be in during the scene. So POV goes to the top of my page, and next to it, the character featured. I’ll use the outline of the Sailor Moon inspired story I started recently for this post. Mostly because I have that right here, and I don’t have to dig through Dropbox to find it 🤣

At the top of my page, I write POV. In this example, it would be POV: Beryl.

Now to decide what the hook should be. Like the hook of a novel, it needs to be the grabbing element of the scene. It’s what’s going to keep the reader going. This means it needs to be something catching, unusual. Use what you know about crafting a killer hook, for your scenes. Remember, a scene is just a mico-novel.

In this first scene, the hook is Beryl crying at an ancient and cursed stone altar. She laments and bitches that Prince Endymion doesn’t love her, doesn’t want her. How he loves Princess Serenity, even though they are forbidden by the gods to be together. The nerve of some people!

Moon Prism Power

Next on my scene outline is the inciting incident. This introduces the conflict/character goal of the scene. And just like the inciting incident of a novel, it should be character specific and exciting. The inciting incident of this scene is when a dark and foreboding force materializes through the darkness. The figure becomes more obvious, a red star gleaming on its forehead. While Beryl is afraid, she doesn’t leave the cave, screaming in terror. She stays to see what the dark figure wants.

This is the perfect place to dangle some new story questions for your reader. Info dumps can come once you’ve hooked your reader with some unusual and interesting tidbits. Using my example, so far the reader only knows that this chick is totally pining for some dude. Granted, he has the title of Prince, so I guess that’s why.

Like in your novel, this is where things move forward!

I call it the progressive complication. It’s sort of like the first pinch point. The protagonist’s goals are being exposed. It’s where things are heating up, they’re getting… complicated! This is where you sort of ratchet up the feel of the scene. So in my Sailor Moon story, the progressive complication is where the dark figure introduces herself as Queen Metalia of the Dark Kingdom. Queen Metalia then tells Beryl that she can win her prince, and become ruler of the entire planet! All Beryl needs to do for this to happen is to betray her people, and the two power crystals of the moon and Earth. Queue dramatic music.

Up next is the crisis. Sort of like the midpoint, the crisis is where things get really bad. This is where shit hits the fan. Where things go totally wrong. In my story, Beryl tells Queen Metalia everything for the ability to make Endymion hers, and rule the world. So basically, she sold her soul to the devil. Counts as a crisis, right? I think so.

Now up for the climax. Just like in your novel outline, the climax is the last fight, the ultimate confrontation. The last chance for things to go horribly right, or terribly wrong. In this Sailor Moon outline, the climax is where Queen Metalia changes Beryl into her minion, into a thing of darkness and shadow and despair. Poor girl, all over a bloke, too.

We’ve arrived at the resolution. The conclusion. The wrap-up. In my scene, it’s where Beryl leaves the cave, a changed person, a new woman, a force to be reckoned with. She walks from the dark cave into the light of a new day. An apt resolution.

Holy shit! There’s more? You bet there is. Because now we have organizational matters to take care of, house-keeping. Mostly because scenes can bleed into each other, and you should always have a clear idea of what each scene contains. So after the resolution you have setting.

This is where you define exactly where your scene takes place. Because remember, unless it’s under very specific circumstances, a scene is in one location.

So the location for this scene is a very extensive list: cave. Yep. She’s in the cave the entire time.

To be thorough, I also list out all the characters that are in this scene. Now, this isn’t for minor walk-on characters. This is for your main, of course, but also your secondary characters. In this example scene, there are two characters on the list. Queen Metalia, and Beryl.

Following characters I have foreshadowing. This is important, because foreshadowing needs to be taking place all the time! Now, I’m not saying each scene needs to have them listed out, but the majority of them do. Until you get later into the book, in which case it’s no longer needed.

Last but not least, I have tension. This is a sort of glossary for you to look over to make sure you included the elements that are needed to help create tension. For example, in my Sailor Moon story, under tension, I have listed as Beryl turning evil; betraying her people and the power crystals, and knowledge of what will happen because of that decision.

Once I get everything all written out, I spend a while reviewing it. This is where I have a last chance to alter the flow of the scenes before I type them all up. I’m not saying you can’t do that once it’s on the computer, but I find it a little easier to do on pages.

And for ease of use, I’ll list out my items so you can see them all in list format.

POV

Hook

Inciting Incident

Progressive Complication

Crisis

Climax

Resolution

Setting

Characters

Foreshadowing

Tension

So there you have it! My scene outline! This makes it so easy for me to craft scenes within my story. I can be as granular or as broad as I’d like. I can spend paragraphs describing the hook or crisis or just a few sentences. But, like always, this is just a rough frame of what works for me. Now you can take it and use it, adapt it, or totally disregard it. The power is yours, Padawan!

Now, go forth and write!

Go forth
Go Forth and Write!

 

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