Book Writing 101: The Scene List

There are many different ways authors go about writing a scene. Some use a pre-planned scene list, while others employ the “start writing and see what happens” method. I’ve found that most writers are somewhere in between.

One of the most useful methods to organize your writing is to create a scene list. The scene list is literally a list of the scenes for your novel divided into rows and columns on an excel spreadsheet (or written out by hand if you prefer).

The following are important pointers to make your scene list as practical and useful as possible:

1. Decide on the main character for each scene
Though there may be other cast members in the scene, only write the scene from one point of view (POV) and keep it consistent throughout the scene. Don’t “head hop” which is the practice of switching the point-of-view between characters within a single scene. This only confuses the reader and will usually drive an editor crazy. If you want to switch the POV without starting a new chapter, make certain there is a well-defined break between paragraphs.

2. Write a couple sentences about what the scene will accomplish
Every scene must drive the story along, not put it into park. Most scenes should move toward the character’s goal and show his continued struggle, success or failure. Similarly, the scene should also show the character’s reaction to whatever action has occurred. Some scenes might show the character reflecting on past events, but make certain the event he is recalling is pertinent to the current scene.

3. A scene list will keep you on track
Most of us need help to remember what we’ve already written. Writing a scene list as you go, allows you to refer back to what you’ve written without having to scroll through your manuscript. To save time, jot down the page number where the scene begins and ends. Likewise, as you think of a point that should have been in a previous scene, make a note of it in the margin of the scene list.

4. A scene list makes it easier to edit
In the same way it keeps us on track with our story, using this method also helps us easily add or delete a scene. Suppose the story takes an unexpected turn. Having the scene list shows you where to go to delete or add something to your story. For authors who like to work to a plan, the scene list comes naturally, but for those who like to wing it, the scene list becomes an essential and timesaving tool.