Journey to a Polished Manuscript – September: Pacing Part One: Action and Reaction (RewriteItClub)

This year, RewriteItClub are doing a monthly series on writing a book, and I’m joining in with my adult political fantasy. To find out more about RewriteItClub’s series click here, or to see this month’s post, click here.

August was as manic as I predicted in last month’s entry – but I did it all! My book is now with beta readers. The feedback is coming in, and I think I have time to deal with the comments before PitchWars next weekend. In the mean time, I’ve switched projects!

I like to take several months to plan and world build before writing, so I’m aiming to get all of that done ahead of NaNoWriMo, because I want to smash out a first draft in November and December. So, right now, I’m doing a lot of reading and plotting because this new book is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One mushed with the real history, with dragons and my own spin on it all. Naturally, it feels like it needs to be part of a wider series as the history of 1386-1422 is fascinating. However, I am trying to plan it to be a standalone with series potential. I came back to uni early to get books out of the library to help!

However, as I started this series talking about GRIFFINS, I will keep talking about GRIFFINS.

This month is the first of two posts about pacing, with a focus on scene structure. They’ve split the scene into a two part structure.

The first is action, based around the character. What do they want in this moment? Why and what will happen if they don’t achieve it? Who’s in their way? This informs what action they take

Once the character acts, there is a fall out. Have they achieved their goal? How are they reacting to it? This is a great place to stuff in emotion, and I like to try and show this through a physical reaction (where appropriate). Of course, the fall out of their action will have consequences, which presents a new set of choice, and it’s now time to build to the next action point.

In this sense, a scene can actually be across two chapter with the reaction being the next. Sometimes, it can me more helpful to think about “scene structure” as “sequence structure”, because it feels more indicative (to me) of considering the entire continuous action, even if there are scene/chapter breaks in the way.

I am very aware of scene structure when I write – partly because I plan in a lot of detail, and partly because there is a lot of information that typically needs to be revealed and I’m also juggling a lot of characters in a scene. Its rare for anyone to be speaking plainly. If it’s a more action-y scene, then it’s a lot easier to plot (and harder to write!)

While plotting, I start with a list of what has to happen within a certain scene. I plot by working out the different “plot threads” weaving through the story, and then divvying them up into chapters purely by working out how many “beats” are in each thread, and so distributing them in order into relevant chapters. This happens in the second of my three planning rounds.

Then I hit the third and most detailed stage, where I have to wrangle these bullet points of “this must happen” into a logical order. I know the setting, which helps me work out what the start of the scene is, and I will know where the scene has to end for it to flow into the next. I have the bullet points on flashcards, so rearrange them until I find an order than makes sense and I can see a progression through them.

Next, I’ll ask myself the “action” questions for every (relevant) character in the scene and how their choices affect each other. The bullet points will probably rearrange, as I realise that this character will more likely be focused on something, so will pull out this idea earlier – and his political rival will try to discredit and deflect onto something else.

This mean that, when it comes to actually writing the scene, I spend more time working out what the character’s thought/emotional process is to make those choices. Sometimes this will rearrange the bullet points again because something about the emotions isn’t working as I write, so I switch it up.

It quite a long winded way but it works for me. It particularly helps with characterisation as I tend to leave that to the side when plotting!

How do you approach writing scenes?

Read the other posts in this series:

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