Shake Up Your Plot

Your plot has an effect on the rhythm between your scenes, summary and reflection. If for the first half of your book the protagonist is alone, there will be few dialogue scenes, lots of detailed descriptions, and probably plenty of summary and reflection. If, on the other hand, your whole novel takes place in a small boat where four people are trapped for a day, you’ll probably have long scenes of dialogue.

To help you examine your plot’s rhythm, try one of these exercises:

•    LIST THE SCENES. List all your scenes, skipping a line between each. Then write down whether there needs to be any transition between the scenes.

Can you just jump to the next scene? Then mark the scenes with a “Y” for “YES, I’m absolutely positive this part should be written as a scene,” or an “M” for “MAYBE this needs to be a scene, maybe I should rethink it and turn it into a summary or a passage of reflection.”

•    COMPOUND SCENES. Search your manuscript for scenes that can be combined. Here’s an example: You write a scene where your protagonist argues with her husband as he’s leaving for work, then you summarize her driving the kids to school, then include a scene where she gets her feelings hurt by her son as she drops him off at the curb.

Maybe you could combine the things that need to happen in the story. The other car won’t start so she’s got the kids and her husband squished into her car. She’s arguing with the husband as she’s trying to drive and can’t pay attention to the children, who are trying to get her attention.

As she pulls up to the school, her son hurts her feelings on purpose as he’s getting out of the car. Lots going on. Not boring. And now the argument with the husband is tied to the child hurting her feelings.

•    SCAN YOUR FAVORITE BOOK. Take a novel by your favorite writer, someone you would like to emulate, and flip through the first 50 pages, jotting down the length, number and order of scenes, summaries and passages of reflection. You might be surprised at what you learn.

This article appeared in the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest. Click here to order your copy in print. If you prefer a digital download of the issue, click here.

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