Sands Hall’s "Checklist for a Scene"

Our September Practicing Writer newsletter will go out this weekend, and I’m thrilled that it will feature an interview with author Sands Hall, whose work includes the best-selling novel Catching Heaven and the play Fair Use. Sands is an experienced writing instructor and freelance editor (I’ve had the privilege of working with her in both capacities) and she has recently published an excellent book for writers, Tools of the Writer’s Craft.

You’ll hear much more about the book (and about Sands) in the newsletter, but in the meantime, Sands has been gracious enough to allow me to reprint one of the text’s exercises, the elements in her “Checklist for a Scene”:

* Where is the scene set? Does the setting convey some information about at least one of the characters?

* What activity might at least one character be engaged in that might reveal to the reader something specific about them?

* What objects, or “props,” might your characters handle? Are these items the most specific, most “telling” objects available in the setting or by the activity? Could they be interpreted on metaphoric or symbolic levels?

* What do each of the characters in the scene want? What is in the way of getting what they want?

* Explore the idea of expressing your characters’ emotional states by how they move about the space, engage in the activity, use the objects.

* Employ dialogue wisely. Make sure each character speaks distinctly–by which I mean uniquely–and that what they say lets the reader know something specific. Avoid adverbs in your attributions; use action and gesture to convey tone of voice and attitude.

* What is the source of light in the setting? Are there sounds? Aromas? Use sensory perceptions as a way to reveal point of view and setting.

* At the same time, remember that each detail needs to contribute something, needs to reveal something about character or objective/obstacle (plot) or theme.

(c) Copyright Sands Hall. Reprinted by permission.