Setting the Scene

In the parlance of NaNoWriMo, fiction writers fall within one of two categories:

  • Planners
  • Pantsters

Planners, as the name suggests, plan their works of fiction in advance – their plot, sub-plots, character arcs, settings and so on. Of course, there are planners of varying degrees, from those who simply sketch out the basics to those who produce intricate story-boards down to the minutest of details. They may spend more time planning than they do writing.

Pantsters, on the other hand, fly by the seat of their pants. They launch themselves into their writing projects with only the vaguest of ideas. They may write the first line and … take it from there having no more of a clue as to the ending as do their readers.

I’m a planner. Moreover, I’m one of those who prefers to create intricate outlines and more before ever committing words to the page. To even imagine writing a piece of fiction without this firm and detailed foundation would cause me to break into a sweat. For me, it would be akin to bungee-jumping without the bungee.


When writing my children’s novel The Door to Caellfyon I used the New Novelist writer’s software. For a planner such as me this was ideal for, among its many tools and devices was a story-boarding feature. This allowed me to sketch out a detailed chapter-by-chapter structure that would take my characters from the opening scene through to the end.

The format of New Novelist’s storyboard option was based on the common, generic structure of a variety of fiction genres. I was therefore able to construct my own story along a specific well-used framework based on similar story types to my own. Although I found this one tool to be indispensable, my own pedantic nature meant that I went further than simply storyboarding.

My approach when writing fiction is to create on a scene-by-scene basis. One particular guide in my writer’s library was extremely useful. In it the author asks ‘What is a Scene?‘ and writes:

The word ‘scene’ comes from theatre, where it describes the action that takes place in a single physical setting. This same principle holds true in fiction: A scene might begin when characters enter a location and end when they leave, or it may take place in a single location regardless of how many characters come and go. The emotional power of a scene depends on not distracting the reader from what’s going on. Too much movement between different settings can divert attention. In fact, much of a scene’s power is often derived from the slightly claustrophobic feeling that the character or characters are somehow trapped in that place and must face whatever the scene is about. The setting in a scene is much like the frame around a painting: it’s meant to enhance the artwork, not distract from it.

Raymond Obstfield – Novelist’s Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes

Guided by this book I was able to approach each scene objectively and, among the questions I sought to answer prior to commencing the scene were:

  • What is the scene’s purpose?
  • What character development occurs?
  • What sensory images will the scene contain?
  • At the end of this scene what feeling will it have created in my reader?

In addition to answering these questions, prior to writing each scene I also conducted what I referred to as a ‘creative search’. This was a type of brainstorming exercise in which I would take on the mantle of stage manager and director to visualise various aspects of the setting and the action that was to take place there.

I began each creative search by writing one key word relating to that scene in the centre of a page. From this I added associated words as they came to mind to produce a web of nouns, adjectives and phrases. The resulting lexicon would collectively help me to construct lively action scenes rich with sensory imagery.

For example, in Chapter Three my main character is forced to run down a steep hillside to escape a dreadful enemy. This was my ‘creative search’ for that scene, one of the pivotal sequences early on in the story:

Creative Search for Levi’s ‘flight down the hill’ – The Door to Caellfyon

To read the full scene click here.


The latest instalment, Chapter Seven of The Door to Caellfyon is now available on this site. To view, access it using the menu or, if you prefer, click here for a free downloadable PDF.

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