We’re so excited to welcome Laurel Amberdine to the blog today! I’ve had the wonderful fun of working with Laurel at Lightspeed and the special Women Destroy issues, and let me tell you: she’s awesome. Here’s some great advice to get you ready to kick some serious word count butt.
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Today, I will tell you about the scene template, a tool to defeat writer’s block, overcome literary weak spots, and make revision a breeze! Or at least a way to get your thoughts together and enjoy some pretty colors.
A few years ago, I went into NaNoWriMo with something beyond writer’s block—it was utter terrified paralysis. After coming back from a long break from writing, I’d spent a year planning a complicated science fiction epic. I’m a big planner. I’d outlined and mapped, designed the solar system and the ecosystem and consulted with scientists. I knew everything about this novel. In my head it was amazing. And I couldn’t write the first word.
But I knew everything! How could this be so hard? I knew I needed some kind of interim planning. I’d used notebooks in the past, but I was traveling constantly, and couldn’t lug all that around.
Finally, I developed a kind of worksheet, which included everything I needed to write the scene. Who was in it and what they wanted. Where it was set. What the conflict was. What I might foreshadow. What I wanted the reader to get out of the scene. And so on, all the way to an actual blow-by-blow list of how the scene should play out, including the opening and closing lines. I called it a Scene Template.
(My particular template uses a rainbow palette, because if it looks pretty I will have more fun filling it in. I like to make the process of writing as pleasant as possible.)
Prior to every scene, I would fill out one of these template sheets. Not the whole thing, necessarily, just enough so I felt comfortable starting. Most of the time I never even looked at them after I got going. Even the most intractable scenes fell before the scene template. Once I filled in all the blanks, I necessarily knew what happened in that scene. It worked great, I won NaNoWriMo, and I have used it ever since.
This is not to say I was suddenly a fantastic writer. Like everyone, I have weak spots, and some of them became more apparent through practice, feedback, and revision. In one case I kept forgetting to include unique emotions or personal quirks for characters. Thinking about how to improve, I realized: I could add an item to the scene template! And now I add a new entry whenever I notice something I need to pay particular attention to.
Most recently, when revising, I had to rewrite enough scenes from scratch that I pulled out the template again. But, a lot of the template entries weren’t so useful, and I couldn’t find a place to put some of the planning I wanted. So I wrote up a specific template just for revision, which focuses on what I need to change, rather than figuring out background information.
I’ve shared the template with a few people, and they’ve customized it or created their own. Turns out that everyone thinks about story and scenes differently, and it’s important to have your template suited to your personal narrative schema. I update my template a couple times a year. Sections get added or expanded or dropped, depending on what I’ve learned recently, or how I find myself using it.
So, if you find yourself struggling with your novel, consider trying some kind of structured planning tool, like a scene template! I’ve included the current versions below. Feel free to take and modify them, and let me know if you have any questions.
Scene Template — click to download (These are Word documents in .rtf format)
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Laurel Amberdine was raised by cats in the suburbs of Chicago. She’s good at naps, begging for food, and turning ordinary objects into toys. She recently moved to San Francisco with her husband, and is enjoying its vastly superior weather. Between naps she writes SF/F and YA novels and works as an editorial assistant for Lightspeed Magazine. Find her on Twitter at @amberdine.