Dreams of Scenes and Time Machines


At 5:10am I found myself awake, with phone in hand, tapping out a note while my Other Half snoozed happily away beside me.

Nope, not an illicit text to my oddly-named and entirely imaginary mistress, Raspberry.

The outline for the start of Novel Number 3! Let’s ignore, for now, the fact that I haven’t yet finished editing Novel Number 1 and already have an outline for the start of Novel Number 2.

Nothing quite like setting yourself a challenge is there?!

Like Martin Luther King, I had a dream. This one had nothing to do with equal rights or freedom or any of those important things though. What it had in their place was suspense. I dreamt a scene so vivid and so compelling that when I woke I was desperate to know what happened next. It was like watching the start of a film only to have your Sky box blow up after the first 3 minutes.

“How?” I thought. “How do I find out what happens next?” (That was after I thought “What the hell am I doing awake at 5:10am?” and “Bleeeecchhh”, which is generally my first conscious thought of the day.)

I knew there and then that the only way to find out what happened would be to write the thing. So I scrawled down the events of the dream, as best my groggy fingers would allow, hoping to bottle the sensations and emotions for future use. I think I succeeded, because it’s still with me and I still want to find out what happens.

And you know what? This one is going to push me to a place I’ve never been. The Land Of Planning.


The back-story to the dramatic opening will come from a cast of characters unveiling their pasts and their connections with the lead character. Some will be reflective, looking back from now; some will be in flashback, taking the reader back to the time when the events occur. And there’s no way that’s all going to happen unless I have a detailed plan of what happens when, to whom, why, how and what their connection is to the opening scene – especially as many of those connections will be intentionally vague and possibly mis-leading.

For someone who, so far, has jumped straight into the middle of a story and fought his way out like a ferret in a sack, that’s a mightily daunting prospect.

Wish me luck dear readers. Of course, there’s the infamous First Novel to complete first and the tentative Second. I feel like Beethoven (the composer, not the dog).

So – how do you go about planning? Some of you must surely be planners and plotters who work it all out in advance. Any tips? Any advice? Halp!


9 thoughts on “Dreams of Scenes and Time Machines

  1. Glad to know I’m not the only one who randomly and obsessively uses the Note feature of my smartphone in the middle of the night. 😉

    I use a scene grid for planning. I don’t put much information in it, just the basic goal/gist of the scene, that way I still leave room for the organic process of writing. But it serves as a road-map of basically post-it notes that remind me what’s supposed to happen next. I’ve done them in various forms over the years, but lately I’ve used Excel, with color coding for the different “acts” of my story. It’s worked out pretty well so far. I’ve kept on the path while being able to detour and expand in places I wasn’t expecting.

    And of course, I make lots of middle-of-the-night notes when inspiration strikes. ;P


    • A scene grid? Tell me more! That sounds perfect. I use a blackboard at the moment, but there’s only so much room. I’m toying with the idea of a room covered in Post-It notes (feels very ‘artistic’ and authorial :)) But I know they’d just fall off and get mixed up or chewed by the cats. I like the idea of Excel – that would make me feel like a proper writer who actually knows what they’re doing.


      • Well, I’m not sure what else there is to say about it. Like you, I started with a vision of a wall of post-its, but the darn things just don’t stay put for very long. (And I loathe my handwriting, so there was a high likelihood I’d crumple them up and chuck ’em out of frustration for how ugly they’d be. Haha!)

        Anyway, my Excel grid is pretty basic. I use three columns (this particular story is split into three significant sections, so there’s a column for each section.) Then using the “merge cells” feature, I block in an arbitrary amount of space for each scene per section. The idea was that I could make some scenes visually bigger than others depending on their estimated importance and how large a chunk of word count I think they’d use. I used a light fill color for each block, with a different color per column. And then for the text, I put the scene # and a snippet of what it would be about. For example, my first one reads, “Scene One, Break-up & Panic Attack.” Means a whole lot of nothing to anyone else, but sums up the points I need to cover in that scene. I should probably note that a scene does not equal a chapter in my process. Several of my scenes are about 5-7 chapters in length. (I have mini-chapters going on in this one.)

        And that’s pretty much the extent of it. It’s quick and dirty, but instantly shows me visually where I’m at in the storyline, how long I expect that scene to be, and most importantly, how long each section is. I was worried about the pacing, but this allowed me a quick overview and the realization that I had split it pretty evenly after all. 🙂


  2. Jon
    I used to be a confirmed ‘pantser’, rarely planning anything, but that simply led to a series of ‘never-ending stories’.
    Since then I’ve incorporated some planning into my WIP and like KWhipkey, I now use a spreadsheet format.
    What’s helped the most is my ‘hour-by-hour’ set up. This worked well for me because my WIP is set over six days, so I could assign an event to each hour of the six days and ensure pace and continuity.
    An example can be found here (hope this works); http://andrewtoynbee.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/hour-by-hour5.jpg
    This covers only one day and two characters, but it’s expandable ad infinitum.
    A larger format that covers days, week, months or years is obviously possible and can serve in place of Post-its for the simple reason that you can’t transport your wall of notes around the country / world with you.
    Now this may look like anal planning, but it was merely a rough guide that later evolved organically as the story proper was written. Think of it as the bare bones only – and even bones change shape when necessary.
    Hope this helps.


    • jumpingfromcliffs

      Thanks Andrew, the Excel plan is a real help. That’s exactly the way I need to go – and thanks for sharing something that’s genuine WIP. It makes everything fall into place somehow. Novel Number 2 is entering the first planning stages and I’ll defo be using this. Although I still fancy wheeling a wall full of Post-Its around behind me on a small trolley 😉


    • jumpingfromcliffs

      What can I say? Thank you! I’m so glad you find the random musings helpful and the fact that there may be any kind of nuggets of value in there makes the whole enterprise worthwhile. I really never expected anyone to read these little outpourings of pseudo-artistic angst, so it really means a great deal.


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