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How to Write, Part 2: Ideas into Scenes

Updated: Jan 17

In the last section we discussed the source of writing, which were ideas. Today we are going to give the second step in the architectural writers’ process, which for me is fleshing ideas out into scenes.

First, I want to be clear a scene is an event or interaction in the book which can be as long or as short as you like. It can be a single thought you really want vocalized, a setting you really want described, or a character interaction you really want the audience to see. It can be the ramification of those things, or the build up to those things. Don’t make the jump to “scene means chapter.” It can be much shorter than that. Let’s take an example:

Kinds of scenes which you can write
Kinds of scenes

Idea: This is a fantasy world where levitation is a common magical ability which is held by more than 30 percent of the population. In the air you can “fly,” as fast as you can walk.


In part one we discussed the questions to ask yourself when figuring out the ramifications of ideas. For this idea we will answer each one in turn:

-              What is the impact to society at an interpersonal level? People who can’t fly would be considered lesser individuals, called the “Grounded.” Being called grounded is an insult. Having dirt on your shoes would be low class. Can the ability be lost with senility, injury, etc.? How would they be treated differently? How would they emotionally react to the loss?

-              What is the impact to society at a political level? Are entirely new government structures possible? Government structures may not be changed but maybe the government offices never have entry available at the ground level. Only levitators can reach the doors, so only a levitating person can run for office. Or would it be like Renaissance Venice where there was a dank crowded undercity for the underprivileged in which only the powerful elite got to see the light of higher ground and were better protected from the plague and other diseases of overcrowding and owned boats giving them access to areas inaccessible by the grounded?

-              Would this change how families interact, or are made? I would make levitation heritable, so families that have the power keep the power among themselves, stratifying society. This could be the opposite, where levitation is random, and therefore class is very malleable from generation to generation creating some social fluidity.

-              Would this change how an economy works? For example, magic which creates things from nothing or values certain items creates new economies. How you view people would be different. Maybe cloaks and clothing and boots would have decorations on their underside to show off the sun going through cloth like a rainbow. A new industry for backlighting of clothing had developed.

-              Would this change the level of safety people have in the world by changing how much power one individual can wield? Absolutely, because the 1/3 could be inherently safer from the 2/3 by living in inaccessible places.

And so on. Each of these can be used to create a scene. Let’s grab one example.

Take the example wherein those who cannot levitate are considered lesser, and called "grounded." I don’t want to just tell the readers that the people who can’t levitate are grounded. I know I want a scene or an event which conveys this information. I will now call into existence two characters, where I have one being made fun of by a ringleader of adolescents for not being able to levitate. The insulted is being circled from above by levitators who are throwing things or spitting on them.

I CAN go further with this scene but I don’t need to. This scene will show the reader there is a class stratification, which is higher and lower and how they both view themselves. None of the characters need to be main characters. We can have the protagonist be involved, or we can have the protagonist witness the scene. One being the hero’s journey's starting point the other being the protagonist as a “save the kitten,” moment.

We could come up with more scenes from this to also drive the point home. Each one of the “scenes,” is a nucleation point around which characters and interactions begin to get formed.

Let’s do another one:

-             Assume levitation is heritable, so families that have the power keep the power among themselves, stratifying society.

Levitation is heritable, but it is a recessive gene, which can hide in the family tree, or sometimes NOT express. Several scenes come to mind. First, individuals with levitation begin to show their skill around puberty when it emerges. While the idea of babies levitating around as infants is fun, I’ll skip that idea here for now.

You could have scene A, where the character is displaying their powers despite nobody in their family having displayed them before. In a conversation between the parents about the child they could be flinging accusations of who cheated on who? Or maybe they have a legend that great grandma could fly, and here is the evidence. They could be thrilled that this has happened, as the ability to move class is easy if you can fly. Or they could be unhappy because new levitation families are more heavily scrutinized or levitators have mandatory military service.

Scene B could be the opposite. A rich or powerful levitation family has a child who has passed puberty and is not demonstrating any skill yet. The conversation could circle again on infidelity, or loss of familial power, or passing over the child to the next born because it is what is best for the family interests.

The perspective can be from the parents or the child overhearing the parents making for very different scenes.

Do this for each idea, and what you will have is a fairly large collection of scenes. Be organized about your activity. Write them down distinctly in a way that you can organize them later, which we will come back to. There is no rush on this step. Many authors will take literally months writing out these events and occurrences. You do not have to have them all be self-consistent, that comes later. Write down every fleshed-out idea in as much detail as you need to ensure that a future version of you, three weeks or three months from now will understand what present you intends.

For each of your ideas try to answer the ten questions posed with no less than 3 or 4 scenes that will help to drive home this information. Not only will this help you later with having a lot of material, it will help you show, not tell, because you created a scene to convey the information instead of data dumping.

Writers write, but sometimes that looks like brainstorming. So go get those ideas transformed into events and scenes.

Next: Organization of scenes: Keeping and discarding ideas. Order of ideas. Perspectives. And building characters into the scenes. Remember to subscribe here for following this long running series on how to turn ideas into books, as well as other writing topics.

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