Use scenarios to see books

Table of Contents

Writing is a lot of summing up. You work to become an author who doesn’t waste any time, and so you compress. High points, please. Events-only, or major topics from a table of contents, comprise your summary. Any book, fiction or non-fiction, benefits from a view from on high. That’s your author’s chair. The scenario is your radar screen where you track the activity flowing through your book.

The concept comes from the theatre. Before books told stories, we relied on drama. Whenever the drama needed some summary, the chorus (or later a narrator) stepped up to tell audiences what happened. You can do this for yourself with a scenario.

Scenarios, though, are an internal tool. Sharon Oard Warner tells us the scenario is a possible synopsis. You can write them to cover any part of a book, even down to a chapter. Writing a scenario about a section of a chapter is possible, too. The trick to using one is not getting lost in the weeds of details.

The weeds spring up all around authors when scenarios are too detailed. We write scenarios to achieve distance on the draft you’ve got, or the draft that’s to come. In nonfiction, your table of contents works as your scenario. You make a detailed table of contents in nonfiction scenarios. That amounts to a series of promises under each heading, because readers always wade in by asking, “What’s in this for me?”

For novelists, Sandra Scofield calls the tool an economical dramatic narration of what happens in a story. It’s important to remember a scenario is not a product. It’s a tool. That means it can be imperfect and can be written quicker than you’d think.

Scofield covers the scenario in the Revision chapter of The Last Draft. A book has a better chance of becoming finished when we aim at a last draft. It’s easier to consider a book globally when you’ve compressed it, she says.

One other prize you’ll win, once you make a scenario, is a good first effort at describing your book. You do this over and over to attract readers, reviewers, editors, and agents. Once you write your scenarios, you’ll have a much better answer to the dreaded party question: What’s your book about?” You don’t tell party people and elevator riders everything, of course. You know the high points, for your pitch, after writing a scenario.

Did I mention that you don’t have to have a book finished, to write your scenario? There aren’t many advantages to summing up when you don’t know the ending yet. You see the pieces on the screen, though, so you can keep the air traffic from colliding.

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