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Could A Scene List Help You Write Better?


By: Kim Olgren

Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, you need to know about scene lists. This is a tool that can change your life as a writer. Pantsers don’t run away. I promise I’m not trying to convert you I’m trying to help you. Don’t be afraid of the big, bad spreadsheet program.

What Is a Scene List?

A scene list can be as simple or as thorough as you want it to be. As a pantser, you might just make a simple list of scenes in a spreadsheet program like Excel or Google Docs just for quick reference as to where something happened. Especially if you’re writing in a program like Word where you looking at one, large, running document. I mean, scrolling through a 100k Word document to see where you first hinted at that smoking gun has to be one of the most tedious and unnecessary actions one can be bored to tears doing. On the flip side, plotters, you’re probably already thinking about tracking all those pesky little details floating around outside of your beautiful outline.

What Can a Scene List Do for You?

Your scene list can be so useful that it can assist you from the maze of the (gasp) outline and first draft, all the way through the bog of revisions, bypassing the junk fields altogether, and right up to publishing castle. A scene list can help with everything from character traits to timelines.

Here’s the hand-written scene list from Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22.

Looks complicated? It’s not. Remember all these squares were filled in over a long period of time. As writers we all know this stuff takes time and odds are it’s not going to look the same as when you first started. However, a scene list can help keep you on track. Especially when you’re wandering around in the purgatory of the soggy middle. Your scene list can put you back on track and moving forward.

Finally, you’re down to the nitty-gritty. It’s time for editing. But wait! You know there’s some missing scenes and some that need to be sent to the abyss. But which ones? Never fear! Your handy scene list is here! Need to drop that meaningful backstory comment that foreshadows why Jane is so afraid to let anyone get close? Browse your scene list. You know you have to pull that scene where that one thing happens that, as it turns out, is totally irrelevant to the story? Browse your scene list. You can highlight what you want to keep or toss in different colors, or highlight POV so you can track how much page-time your characters are getting. The possibilities are endless.

Get the most from your scene list

Here’s some information you might want to include to get the most out of your scene list (you can do more or less, or do it completely differently, it’s all up to you):

  • Scene number
  • Chapter the scene is found in
  • Estimated word count
  • Actual word count
  • A short scene summary
  • POV
  • Other characters involved
  • The scene’s structure
  • Date the scene takes place within the story
  • The setting in which the scene takes place

You can use a spreadsheet, some kind of outline form in a word processing program, the cork board in Scrivener, sticky notes on a wall or in a folder, graphing paper, or some other helpful writing tool you prefer. Your scene list can be the map to your novel, showing you all corners of the world you’re building and everything within it at a glance. Your all-seeing eye gazing into your newly forming world.

May your pen be swift, prolific, and true!

Kim OlgrenK.A. Olgren has voraciously read anything she could get her hands on for as far back as she can remember. She’s always been a sucker for a good mystery in any form. By the time she’d entered elementary school she was writing her own stories and squirreling them away for her own eyes only. She’s worn many hats but writing has been her constant companion. When not wrestling with words or curled up with them (it’s a complicated love/hate relationship), she can be found flipping houses with her husband, volunteering within the local writing community, crocheting badly, traveling sporadically, or hanging out with her family and faithful German shepherd/lab mix in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Visit the author’s website.   

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