“Favorite” Type of Scenes?! Is this a trick question?

This week, our topic is, “What types of scenes do you like to write and why?” 

This seems a bit like a trick question. I’m not sure I like or dislike any type of scene more than the others. 

Here’s how I feel about it right now: sitting down to work almost always pains me. I usually have to trick or guilt myself into it, even though I desperately want to have written, and even though I technically like writing. 

That said, once I actually begin working, my favorite moments to write are the ones in which I surprise myself. This has happened during all kinds of scenes — flashbacks, inner-thinking reflections, and big action scenes.

Here are some tips and tricks for scenes that have worked for me:

  • One of my writing teachers, Mary Carroll Moore, taught me to, near the beginning of a project, open a notebook to a back page and quickly brainstorm a list of 20-30 scenes that might appear in my novel at some point. Then, when I’m starting a writing session and feel blocked, I can choose from a list of events I’ve pre-decided.
  • Mary also taught me to categorize each scene as action, flashback, or reflection, and then not to stack up more than one flashback or reflection in a row. More action is better. In fact, more action is necessary.
  • If I’m wondering where a scene ends, it’s usually behind me–I’ve probably already written the ending and/or the heart.
  • A scene has to have all the elements of a story in it to be successful–it has to have it’s own conflict, arc, and function within itself. If it doesn’t, it probably has to go.
  • I usually have to write two scenes in order to get one I’m going to keep. I wish I could speed this process and write fewer words on the way to my final 95k, but so far I can’t.
  • If I know my characters well, they’ll surprise me in all the best ways. I didn’t know Henry was going to tell Andrew in MINOR DRAMAS that “no one ever really earns anything” until he did it. I also didn’t know Julia was going to say to Tracy, “You don’t admire me.” Those two moments are among my favorite quiet ones in the whole book, and I didn’t plan them out ahead of time. I just made myself sit there and type the words.
  • Plan to write and re-write your big scenes many times to get the pacing right. It’s really hard for me not to rush when I know a big moment is coming.

Do you have a favorite type of scene to write? I don’t, but I like having written any scenes at all, and I like it even more if I’ll be able to keep them.

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Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

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