Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by StoryWeaver, Mar 2, 2019.
How many scenes do you recommend when outlining a novel (romance adventure), including any subplots?
Exactly the same number which that story needs.
Book 1 of my WIP has 181K words, 5 parts, 38 chapters and around 140 scenes.
I'm sorta glad I didn't know that before I started writing it.
Wow, that's a very general question. Too general to answer. Depends on a lot of things.
How long is a scene? How much stuff happens during a scene? How fast paced is the story? How much stuff happens during the story? How many major characters are there? How many different locations are featured? How long a period of time does the story take place over? How complicated is the plotline? What is the target audience? What sort of tone does the story take? What is the structural writing style?
Instead of focusing on a number of scenes just start out by writing in all the major plot points. Then slowly fill in the gaps until you're satisfied that everything is well connected. That's what I do anyway.
I guess this question isn't as weird to me as it is to everyone else. It's asking something important, but it can't be answered in general terms that apply to everyone. The question could have been "How long should a sentence be?" or "How many lines in a paragraph?" And while those seem impossible to answer, there still kind of is one. The number's fuzzy and it varies between us. We all have writing baselines that feel comfortable, and we fall back to them again and again. Some of us are quicker with our lines/phrases and some more drawn out. It's a part of our authorial fingerprint.
So answering this, I'll say that you'll need to look at your typical scene and count the words. Some scenes will run long or be short, kind of the extremes of a bell curve, and they're worth knowing too. They should be averaged separately. Then look at your novel's outline. Let's say you have 50 normal scenes, a couple short transitions, and a few dramatically drawn out parts. Multiply it out and see if you land on your desired word count. As you write, you're going to repeatedly break that blueprint. Let that happen where the story needs to and make adjustments where you can. You're balancing the story between author and audience. (Authors don't care about word counts and length of scenes, but audiences sure do.)
I typically hit 1500-word scenes for short stories, closer to 2000 for longer works. So if I'm aiming for 80k (a very modest novel, though genre can drastically inflate this), then it doesn't hurt for me to count the scenes in the outline and do the math. If I'm landing at 100k+, then it tells me that a subplot needs to be tightened/simplified before I put it to paper. If I'm writing a short that needs to fall under 5000 words (so very typical), then I know 4 scenes will work if I have a quick in and out. Or 3 if one is going to be long. If I were writing the typical 80k novel with 2000-word scenes, I would expect 40 scenes. I see a bunch of scenes will be short, so I inflate the number to around 45 scenes. I would adjust the number based on my outline, and the target wouldn't be exact, but it would be close.
(I usually underestimate too. I run 10% over, almost always. Then my edits cut 10-15%, so it evens out. Once again, you need to be aware of your own habits.)
This doesn't take detailed plotting to solve, just a vague overview of what you're going to do and an understanding of what you've done before. You'll need a target word count and a familiarity with your own averages.
@Seven Crowns is a good person to listen to on this. She's done the research and she's published the stories. As she said though, a lot is up to your personal style. Think of books you've read. Likely there were plenty with evenly paced, average length chapters and others with much shorter passages and even a few with wildly uneven counts. You might try writing what comes naturally first and then even out what feels imbalanced. If you find that pacing is not something that comes naturally to you, you might try a more formulaic approach. There are many celebrated authors, screenwriters, etc. who write, or at least outline, to a precise template. @Seven Crowns, you've read all those books. What's the name of the three act, twenty-seven scene thing people use? Do you know what I'm talking about? I may have the numbers all wrong.
That sounds like something I was thinking of, aiming for shorter (2000 words each) chapters, so maybe 40 chapters in an 80k novel.
I my humble opinion, I don't think scenes should be the focus. What I think you should focus on is "Acts" not scenes. Acts are defined more by how they end then anything. An act ends when an event happens or a decision is made that is irrevocable. In a context of a romance story, it might be the moment where the characters admit they finally love each other. That's an irrevocable decision. Once that cat's out of the bag, everything between these two characters is different. There is no going back after that.
So how do you focus on an act within planning? Well, figure out what you want to happen that will turn the story. You obviously want that moment where they say they love each other. I'm not sure what other moments the book will have. I'm sure the antagonist will do something that causes things and those things can't easily be undone.
Once you know what these key moments are, you can sit down and focus on what is going to lead to those moments. In other words the scenes.
That's just 3 Act Structure. 9 chapters per act. It won't steer you wrong. But do know that there's plenty of works (most!) that ignore it entirely or in parts. It's not like all books are 27 chapters.
There's 5 Act Structure too, which is more Shakespearean. To me it's basically just 3 Act again with mortar between the bricks, as it were. This is an extremely good book on it (it's earned its stars): https://www.amazon.com/Into-Woods-Five-Act-Journey-Story/dp/1468310941
This is very interesting. Thank you.
Interesting, the 5 act structure. I come from using a 4 act structure with a screenwriting background (ten feature specs), where act II basically becomes IIa and IIb making for four acts. Never heard of 5 acts until your post, I will look at that.
My scenes average around 1500 a piece. I'm writing YA mostly, so I think that's a decent average (not that youth have a short attention span, but I think the genre typically moves a bit quicker than many others, the word count for novels is shorter too). My shortest scenes come in at just under 1000 mark, longer ones up to or just over 2000.
I think if I've gone over or under that too much, I know I need to look at it and figure out what's going on. Am I belabouring something (usually bloated dialogue), or skimming too much (usually not enough showing)? @Seven Crowns above gives a good answer.
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