[First – in case anyone’s worried – these are plastic castings of human bones, courtesy of my colleague who teaches Forensic Anthropology. No actual bones here!]
I’ve finished the first pass through my scenes. I have my goals, internal conflicts, external complications, stakes, and disasters all lined up in a row. I’ve checked to make sure each scene leads to the next, and each has its place in the story’s structure. Now I’m digging deeper, finding the bones.
For each scene I’m adding a paragraph or two about what happens in the scene. This includes descriptions the external action and dialogue, as in: Kay tries to run from the minions, but one of them grabs her by the leg. Or: Chase tells about his time of slavery in calm, objective terms, but his voice shakes and his hands won’t hold still. These paragraphs also include the feelings behind the action and dialogue. What is going through Kay’s mind when Jana dies? Why is this experience especially challenging for Chase? These descriptions help me to make sure the scene will work. How will I make the goal explicit at the beginning of the scene? How will I make the stakes, conflicts, and complications clear as the scene progresses? How will the disaster at the end happen, and how will it be a direct response to the goal? These are the bones of my story. Everything else makes it pretty to look at, decently clothed, but without these bones it will just be a blob that can’t move anyone.
The descriptions will also include all the little bits that occur to me as I work through this plan. Is there something in Chapter 3 that can set up something in Chapter 10? Make a note of it. What is the setting, and how does that setting look/feel/sound/smell? I can drop in pictures of what the shore of Lake Ontario looks like in autumn or maps with arrows to where action is taking place. This gives me the flesh, skin, clothing that drapes the bones to make them appealing. What I have to guard against is spending too much time playing around with details. Without the bones, they mean nothing; once the bones are there, I can always find the details I need.
Bottom line: I am so not a pantser. My hope is that when the time comes to write the scene, I’ll be able to see it play out in my mind. That should (fingers crossed!) make it easier to put it all down on the page. We’ll know in July!