Building A Scene-By-Scene “Road Map” For Your Novel

By now you’re starting to know your way around story structure (and if not, be sure to check out my story structure series). But there’s a problem.

You know what your main stops need to be on Story Rd., but you have no-freaking-clue what goes in between. When it comes to the scenes you need to create the actual path your novel will follow, you’re at a loss.

Before you freak out, know this: building the scenes in your novel starts with your structure.

Your Story’s Structure

Your story’s structure: that’s where I always recommend starting. Because when you know your structure, the rest pretty much just falls into place naturally.

Once you have the structure for your story, then you have a starting point for building the rest of your scenes.

Write down the scenes in your core story structure (all of your plot points and pinch points), then use the four parts of story as a guide for what goes in between.

Part One: The Set Up

The first 14 scenes (give or take) in your story are Set Up scenes. They set up the real story.

This is when you introduce your Protagonist, show the reader where the Protagonist is at in his life, introduce stakes, and start to give hints of the story that’s to come (at the First Plot Point).

Consider:

  • What needs to be set up in order to reach my FPP?
  • What information needs to be shared with the reader at this point in the story?
  • Which characters are entering the story right now?

Then the First Plot point hits. And that’s when the real story begins.

Part Two: Reaction

The next 14 scenes (give or take) in your story are Reaction scenes. They are scenes that have the Protagonist reacting… to what’s happened at the First Plot Point.

This is when your Protagonist is running, hiding, planning, making failed attempts, trying to figure things out, etc.

Consider:

  • How would my protagonist react to what’s just happened?
  • What needs to happen to set things up for the Midpoint that’s to come?
  • What information needs to be introduced in this part of the story?

When the Midpoint hits, then your story is shifted into a whole new context.

Part Three: Attack

The next 14 scenes (give or take) in your story are Attack scenes. This means your protagonist is taking action and starting to have the confidence needed to go up against the antagonist.

This is when the protagonist is questioning, chasing, discovering, having small wins, starting to make things happen, etc.

Consider: 

  • How would my protagonist begin to attack the antagonist now that the Midpoint has been introduced?
  • What information needs to be introduced in this part of the story?
  • In what ways can I show that my protagonist is starting to overcome his inner and outer demons?

Then comes your Second Plot Point, the final bit of new information to enter the story.

Part Four: Resolution

The final 14 scenes (give or take) in your story are Resolution scenes. This means your protagonist has shifted into “Martyr Mode” and is willing to do whatever it takes to resolve the story.

This is when your protagonist is finalizing, killing, hunting down, fighting, overcoming, bringing things to a conclusion, being heroic, etc.

Consider: 

  • What needs to happen to resolve this story?
  • What loose ends need to be tied up?
  • How can my protagonist be even more heroic?

Building Your Story “Road Map”

Now that you know exactly what scenes you need in your novel, you can start putting them together. Grab some notecards/Post Its (or a story software, like Scrivener, which I personally use and love). Write out one notecard for each scene (this makes it easier to move things around later),

For each scene include the following information:

  • Mission of the scene
  • Where it takes place
  • When it takes place (as in time of day)

And there you have it. A blueprint for going from scene one to scene done with your story.

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How do you figure out what scenes you need in your story?

13 replies
  1. Kim
    Kim says:

    I am in a perpetual state of confusion over all this. I’ve known about the structure of stories/plot points/etc for over a year now. I do understand the definitions of each one – but identifying them in movies/books/my own writing is not something I seem to be able to do.

    In my mind, there are lots of scenes (in any particular story) that could potentially be a FPP or second, or whichever.

    And reaction/action to me, is confusing as well. Okay, lets say we have a simple story: A killer crashes a party (fpp?). Killer terrorizes those at the party and they scramble to hide/escape (reaction?). They realize that killer won’t stop and decide they must kill him (action?). They kill him (resolution?) If I’m right, that’s simple enough.

    But how often do we have such a basic simple story? There’s often lots going on. And in MY brain, a lot of stories don’t have a noticeable ACTION – to me it’s all reaction. For instance, you used Titanic as an example in the email that was sent out today. I can clearly see the ship hitting the iceberg as the FPP, but I don’t clearly see the shift from reaction to action. I could see action if they tried to save the ship – patch the hole or whatever (obviously an impossible task). But to me, everything that happens after the iceberg is a reaction – hysteria, locking the poor in their floors, going topside, getting women and children into life boats, etc, that’s all a reaction of realizing they’re going down.

    I know there has to be action in there, but I don’t see it. Pinches are also very unclear to me.

    Maybe I’m overthinking this too much, but I really want to understand and be able to identify these points. If I can’t do it in a movie – how will I ever know I’ve got them right in my own writing?

    Reply
    • Jennifer Blanchard
      Jennifer Blanchard says:

      Hi Kim,

      To start, yes, you’re little analysis of the “killer” story would be examples of how characters move through the four parts of story.

      The more you watch movies trying to pay attention to the specific shifts in what’s happening, the more you’ll start to see it play out.

      I deconstructed the book, Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella–that deconstruction is going to be on StoryFix.com in the coming weeks. I will let you know when it’s live, and then you can take a look at it. I think this will give you a better idea of how the four parts of story play out and what the difference is between set up, reaction, action and resolution.

      In the meantime (if you’d prefer not to wait), you can find a copy of that deconstruction (plus a bunch more) in the Write Better Stories community: http://jenniferblanchard.net/landing/write-better-stories/ … if you want to check it out.

      Reply
  2. Kim
    Kim says:

    Thanks for your quick reply! I will look forward to the deconstruction – I’m sure it will be a fantastic help! I’ve been mulling over the community since you announced it. I think it would be an enormous help. Just waiting on the finances to get a bit better situated and I’ll be ready to sign up!

    Reply

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  1. […] Your final seven to nine days should be spent coming up with the scenes you’ll need in your story in order to connect the plot points together. […]

  2. […] digging out the pieces of your story. Then once you have all the pieces, you’ll be able to figure out where each piece needs to go in order to make the story cohesive and […]

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