Writing a Simple Scene in Five Easy Layers

  One thing you hear often is that different techniques work for different writers. I’m experimenting with a new one for my third novel, a new one for me anyway. I’m trying to write it in layers. I did not originate this idea. I’ve come across variations of it in several writers’ blogs and have adapted it to suit my own style. I look at the approach as kind of like a coloring book; sketch an outline of the picture first, and then color it in. Here is a brief description of how it might work for a simple scene to show you what I mean.

1: State the important thing (or things) that must happen in the scene such as: Amy discovers the door is locked and she can’t open it.

2: Add the actions needed to show how this thing happens rather like stage directions:

Amy walks to the door.
She turns the knob and pulls.
The door remains closed
.
She backs away
.

3: Add the dialog (assuming there is any).

Amy walks to the door.
“It won’t work, you know. I heard it latch behind us,” Ralph said.

She turns the knob and pulls.
“Damn it, door. Open!”

The door remains closed.
“I told you it wouldn’t work.”

4: Add setting details and literary touches.

Amy walked to the door. Her footsteps echoed hollowly in the long abandoned library. Tattered bookmarks and ragged dust jackets, all that remained of the literary treasures once enshrined here, littered the floor.
“It won’t work, you know. I heard it latch behind us,” Ralph commented sadly from the center of the cavernous room.
She turned the old fashioned glass doorknob and pulled.
“Damn it door. Open!”
The heavy oak door stubbornly remained closed.
“I told you it wouldn’t work.”

5: Go back and add the emotional reactions and internal thoughts of the POV character.

Amy walked to the door. Her footsteps echoed hollowly in the long abandoned library. Tattered bookmarks and ragged dust jackets, all that remained of the literary treasures once enshrined here, littered the floor. They held no meaning for her.
“It won’t work, you know. I heard it latch behind us,” Ralph commented sadly from the center of the cavernous room.
She turned the old fashioned doorknob and pulled. Ralph always gave up too easily. He seemed to enjoy playing the victim. Perhaps it was the only role he knew.
“Damn it door. Open!”
The heavy oak door stubbornly remained closed. Amy glared at it, although she knew its mechanism was impervious to such intimidation.
“I told you it wouldn’t work.”

And that’s it. I’m trying this approach several different ways right now. The first was to approach it one short scene at a time. I’m now experimenting with sketching an entire chapter with just the first three steps and then going back to add the other two. So far, it seems to work well for me. I offer it as an alternative for other writers who may still be searching for an approach that will work well for them. As always, I wish you all good luck with your writing. May inspiration be abundant and your muses cooperative.

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About Dave

A reader and writer of speculative fiction. See my website for more information on me and my writing. https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/

Posted on October 6, 2011, in Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. That was very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Reblogged this on The Quill Wielder and commented:
    Five easy steps to Make your scene amazing!

  3. MOST useful! I think this may actually work for me. 🙂 With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, I need all the help I can get. heh!

  4. You are most welcome, Blackalchemy. Just as an aside, no matter how annoying that cursor gets, banging your head on the screen and/or keyboard will not help. Trust me on this.

  5. These are really great suggestions, and the examples you provide are even more helpful. I had not heard of this idea of developing scenes in layers before, and it is intriguing to me. I think that it might be a fantastic tool for combatting writer’s block, or for when I get stuck at particular point and fnd myself staring at the blinking cursor, gritting my teeth. Thank you, I am going to add this to my arsenal!

  1. Pingback: A link to a blog with a cool scene-writing technique! « Kate Policani

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