I don’t know about you, but when I write, I don’t really plan.
Sure, I might have an idea of what I want to write about, but generally, I’ll write until something takes shape.
That creative freedom is what I love about writing. It’s also a double-edged sword because you’ve got to somehow make sense of that creative chaos once the words are written.
Now I’ve learned these things and more, I know the difference giving your creativity some structure can make. I’m also no longer worried that analyzing each scene for character arcs will suck the fun out of writing.
While I’m not all team-three-act-structure yet, I have gone into my latest round of rewrites fueled by a little more than just creativity and the hope I know what the hell I’m doing. This has resulted in better writing and a brand new checklist!
Joining other such checklists as The Active Word Checklist, The Weak Word Checklist, and my personal favorite, The Delete Checklist, The Basic Scene Checklist will hopefully help me—and you—create a solid scene.
This checklist is your handy reminder to ensure your scenes include some basic elements.
It’s not a be all and end all list. You may not need to include some of the elements listed here, or you may have your own that you want to add.
The Basic Scene Checklist
The Five Senses
If you aren’t using the power of the five senses in your writing, then you and your readers are missing out. Where relevant, work in what the characters see, smell, hear, touch, and taste.
Including as many senses as you can allows the reader to experience what the character is experiencing and forge a relatable connection. Senses such as smell, sound, and touch also give depth to your settings. For example, when you describe a backyard BBQ using the senses, the reader will feel like they’re there, eating those grilled burgers, listening to laughter as the sun’s rays warm their skin. The five senses add so much to your writing when done right and are a great basic to include in all of your scenes.
Another writing super weapon that will draw your reader closer to your characters is harnessing the power of internal thoughts. Readers want to know what’s happening inside your characters’ heads. Check to make sure you’re using internal thoughts whenever it’s appropriate in a scene and invite the reader to intimately find out what makes your character tick.
There’s a time and a place to set the stage for your scene and describe where a character is sitting, how they’re moving their hands, or if they’ve put down the bag they’re carrying. I naturally overwrite staging for the first draft of a scene and usually forget to edit it out. Including staging on this checklist is my reminder to decide what staging works and what needs to be cut.
As writers, we’ve all got repeats; words or phrases we use over and over again. If your default instinct is to have every character suck in a breath, frown, or if you can’t help but type “seemed to be” in every scene, this is your chance to scour your sentences for repeats and clean up the scene.
If you’ve written your scene from the POV (point of view) of a particular character, this stop on the checklist is your cue to make sure the whole scene is written that way. Head hopping sneaks up on the best of us, so a specific check ensuring all your paragraphs are written in the correct POV is a must.
Dialogue/Basic Punctuation Check
End your checklist with a quick grammar check, ensuring all dialogue has quote marks and the right punctuation (full stop precedes an action beat, comma for a dialogue tag), and that your sentences have their capitals and full stops. This’ll make the overwhelming job of the full MS grammar check you’ll do later less daunting.
As you can see, there aren’t a lot of things to check off, but it’s enough basics to build a more rounded scene, and give you a head start on your editing. I’m currently using this checklist as I work through the rewrites for book 2 of my YA series, Blackbirch, and it is making a difference. If you use it too, I hope you find it just as helpful for your creative chaos. Enjoy!
— K.M. Allan