Now we get to the hard part, for me at least. The point where I must list every scene and attempt to create a satisfying puzzle. This is the moment that I face my worst fears as a writer. I know my strengths: dialog, wordplay, playful humor, atmosphere, pulling the reader into the head of the characters. These are all good things.
But you know how it is. I have a suspicion that most of us let our weaknesses overshadow our strengths. They loom large, obliterating the sky. That’s when we have to fight back, push through, do the thing no matter how bad it seems to suck as we do it. If you’re serious about writing, you have to hold one thing foremost in your mind.
It’s just a first draft, not the published book. Nobody is going to see it but you. Go ahead and put it down on paper, maybe laugh at how bad it is, make it a game. Once it’s all there, you can let it marinate for a few weeks or months, then come back with a fresh mind and a fresh cup of coffee and tweak it.
For this part of the series, I show my meager notes on Chapter 9 and then list my scene notes for the first day. Note that I ignored Truby’s suggestion of writing only one sentence per scene, a trick that allows you can see the structure at a glance. I’m not suggesting you do the same. For me, I’ve written enough novels to be able to keep it all in my head as I go. YMMV.
In this section I am breaking with precedent. I will not show all my scenes, just those from Day 1. First, because that would force a lot of reading on you, and the first five scenes should be enough to give you the feel of it. Second, because I don’t want to put the entire plot out on the internet for search engines to crawl. However, if you want to see my entire scene weave to better understand how I did what I did, email me and I’ll send it to you.
Before we dive in, I’ll give you a little trick I use to create a sense of verisimilitude and to throw a bit of randomness into the story. For every one of my novels, I pick a specific date in history for day one and pay close attention to the timeline. I always know not only the date, but also the day of the week. This means I don’t have someone going to school six days before hitting the weekend. Or worse yet, having a three-day week.
The other thing I do us use the Farmer’s Almanac website to find out the weather for the time and location of that scene. If it’s sunny and 102° F, I make that work. If it’s cold and raining, I make that work. By forcing myself to roll with the weather punches, I find that it brings a level of problem solving and spontaneity to the writing, punching it up beyond the straight-line progression of events I had envisioned. I can’t count the times this little trick has improved the story by knocking my narrative off the narrow-gauge train rails I had planned and forcing me to be creative, which bleeds through to the reader.
Chapter 9: Scene Weave
Notes from the chapter:
- List every scene in the story
- The list shows how the story fits together beneath the surface. Use one sentence per scene to reveal the structure.
- Look for opportunities to reorder scenes, combine scenes, and cut or add scenes.
- Order scenes by structure, not chronology, paying special attention to the juxtaposition of scenes.
- Plot types:
- Detective or crime
- Love story
- Social fantasy
Day 1 Monday 9/28/2015 GMT-5.00
High Temp: 86.76°F
High Temp Time: 20:01 GMT
Low Temp: 65.73°F
Low Temp Time: 12:39 GMT
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.9 mb
Visibility: 9.458 miles
Wind Speed: 1.75 mph
Wind Gust Speed: 10.85 mph
Cloud Cover: 50%
Moon Phase: Waning Gibbous
Sunrise Time: 12:24 GMT
Sunset Time: 00:22 GMT
Summary: Mostly cloudy throughout the day.
Scene 1: 7.24 am (note that Central Time is 5 hours behind Greenwich Meridian Time, This is Sunrise (GMT 12:24 – 5:00)
Tree. Jack wakes up, gets coffee, and heads to meet Joe Davis to work on a tiny house. Encounters crime scene. Meets Noel, tries to get her to see Jodi’s death as murder, not OD. Gets no traction.
Scene 2: 9.30 am
En route. As Jack proceeds to the construction site, he thinks back to the last time he saw Jodi.
Note: This is a flashback to 2.00 pm one week before, thus the need for a new weather report. Also, I haven’t worked out exactly what needs to happen in this flashback, but I’ll fill that in after I know more about the plot.
High Temp: 94.57°F
High Temp Time: 21:21 GMT
Low Temp: 67.8°F
Low Temp Time: 12:41 GMT
Sea Level Pressure: 1013.9 mb
Visibility: 9.986 miles
Wind Speed: 1.66 mph
Wind Gust Speed: 8.76 mph
Cloud Cover: 26%
Moon Phase: First Quarter Moon
Sunrise Time: 12:20 GMT
Sunset Time: 00:31 GMT
Summary: Humid throughout the day.
Scene 3: 10.00 am
Construction site. Joe Davis senses that something lies behind his silences and pulls out the story of Jodi and the murder. Flashbacks to high school, story of Riki’s OD, which happened while Jack was in the Sandbox. Roger stops by, interested due to relevance to CodeNext. Name-drops a major developer. (Jack later discovers this is the firm Jodi worked for.) Jack doesn’t recognize Roger because back in 2002-2004 when Jack briefly met him, Roger was a tall, skinny long-haired guy in his mid 20s. Now he is fat, shaved head, dressed in flashy clothes, wearing expensive shades, and using the identity he stole in New Mexico. (Roger recognizes Jack, but there’s no way for Jack or us to know that.) Roger asks Joe if he has Jack locked up, or does he lend him out, because he has the occasional job and is looking for a reliable handyman. He asks Jack for his contact info, but Jack has no address and no phone (that he’s willing to tell Roger about. Lack of cell phone becomes a running gag). Roger gives him a card and tells him to let him know when he’s open to do some work.
[To Do: find out how Roger dresses back in the day.]
[To Do: find the intent of CodeNext regarding tiny houses.]
Scene 4: 1.00 pm
Bella’s Diner. Jack has lunch at the counter, chatting with Bella as she works the lunch crowd. She has an anti-CodeNext petition near the register for people to sign, and they talk about the danger it poses to the community.
A newsflash on the TV in the corner reports Jodi’s death from apparent overdose. Jack tells Bella what he saw. They talk about the sad history of the family. Bella tells Jack that since Jodi had no family, somebody should gather her effects and bullies Jack into agreeing to check with the police. Somewhere Bella remarks that it was a shame how Jodi was doing so well for a while and mentions the name of the company she worked for. It’s the same company that Roger mentioned.
Scene 5: 2.00 pm
APD HQ. Jack goes to the cop shop and asks for Noel. He asks about releasing her effects. He discovers her journal is missing, but says nothing. Conversations ensue. Jack asks why OD? Did she have any signs of a druggie? She asks why Jack didn’t disclose his relationship with the victim and what was all that pussyfooting around about? She asks him for his contact information, ferrets out that he has no address and no phone. That he is, in fact, homeless.
[To Do: find out what drug they would use and if the coroner can know this soon what it was?]
[To Do: find out whether, since it was ruled an OD, they will release her effects. If they won’t, will they let him see them, or see a list?]
Scene 6: 6.00 pm
Home. Jack retrieves an MRE from his geocache, checks his texts on his flip phone (car guy has work for him), eats his meal at a picnic table in a park, hikes to his next hidey-hole, and settles down for the night. Has a nightmare about the icebox.
[To Do: see if Tony Hoagland poems might work as Jack’s thing. Perhaps he has a chapbook he reads for a diversion.]