Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Scene On-Call List

I've been trying a couple different things with writing the Kyndred books, and one of them is creating an on-call list of characters for each scene. This is like a crib sheet that breaks down every chapter by scene and POV, along with a list of the characters who should make an appearance (this doesn't always work out; while I'm writing I may add or subtract characters as needed.)

My on-call list looks something like this (note: POV characters' names are underlined):

Intro A: Palace War Room -- Soko imprisoned, accepts fate, kills ambassador, taken to goldworks [Tend, Scribe, Captain, guards, goldsmiths]

Intro B: Malibu Beach House -- Brent's confession to Randa, Emily gets out of bed, Nanny takes Emily upstairs, Randa argues with Brent about selling Emily/threatens to leave, Brent kills Randa [Randa, Brent, Emily, Nanny, hskpr?]

Chap 1A: Deployed Unit Doyle Drive SF -- Charlie and Vince finishing shift, receive 11-81, respond, find victims in road and CHP dead, Limo Guy shouts warning, Vince is shot, Sniper shows himself, jumps from bridge [Charlie, Vince, CHP, 3 GSW vics, Limo Driver, Limo Guy, Sniper/Jumper]

Using an on-call sheet like this is faster than reading the synopsis or even breaking up the synopsis into chapter or scene summaries (which is what I've always done in the past.) Each scene breakdown gives me a brief summary of where I am in the setting, what action needs to take place, and who is on stage or waiting in the wings. This also creates a great checklist for after I finish writing and go back to edit it (i.e. How far is Doyle from the bridge on the map to verify response time? Did I show all the vics? Where did I stage the jumper in relation to the fender bender to check line of fire?)

I've been preparing my on-call sheet for the entire novel in advance mainly so I can think about whose head I need to be in for what. Some scenes have to be told from the POV of a particular character to give them the maximum impact and effectiveness. Also, when you're writing in third person with multiple POVs, you can get caught up in one character's POV and forget that there are other characters who need to take the lead, and end up with eighteen chapters in one character's POV and two chapters in another.

For those who would like a blank worksheet to use for this approach, I've posted one over on Scribd.com here (I could only fit 2 scenes on the one page so you'll have to condense or print extra copies as needed.) Note 9/3/10: Since Scribd.com instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed this document and temporarily transferred it to Google Docs here. See my post about this scam here.


  1. I've learned to to do something like this from a writing course. I'll head over and download the sheet. Thanks!

  2. Thanks, again, as I thanked you yesterday for the Civilization Generator. :) This sheet will be very helpful, especially as I'm in the middle of revising a short story. It will prove a handy way for me to keep track of what's happened in a scene I've already drafted and will prove particularly useful for longer works like a novel. Appreciate your sharing this.

  3. Ooh, this is neat! Great way to organize a novel. I will definitely start using this technique since in between writing breaks I often must go back to see what had previously happened in an earlier chapter.

    Hmm, this would also be useful in scriptwriting, I think!



  4. Thanks for this post. I like the posts where you write about the nitty-gritty of how you work. They're very helpful.

    This scene on-call list idea might also work well with a spreadsheet. E.g., columns for the chap/scene nos., a column for the setting, a column for the POV character, a column for the action description, another for other characters, etc.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.