Writer’s Math: How to Prep a Scene with 5+5+1

by Beth K. Vogt @bethvogt

I thought I’d escaped all things numerical by becoming a novelist. Fine with me, as the mention of numbers cues white noise in my brain.

Through the years, I’ve learned that even wordsmiths enjoy devising equations to help with the writing process. Author Susan May Warren has developed writers equations benefiting thousands of writers as they plot their stories. One day I surprised myself and formulated my own writers equation.
I love the process of fast drafting — writing the first draft of my manuscript without stopping to rewrite, and using the process as an act of discovery about my characters and my overall plot. But how can I ensure my fast draft is as strong as it can be?

Simple. Whenever I write a scene, I remember the equation: 5+5+1.

5 + 5 + 1

The first 5 stands for the 5 Ws: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Before I begin writing a scene, I type out the 5 Ws of the scene. I like to do this in red so that it stands out. I list:

Who is in the scene? Specify the main POV character and any other key characters.

What is going on? Focus on the main action.

Where does the scene takes place? In a castle? On a boat?

When does the scene happen? What time of year is it (if that’s important) or what time of day is it?

Why is this scene important? What is the goal of this scene? Is it an Action or ReAction scene?

5 + 5 + 1

The second 5 stands for the 5 Senses: Touch, Sight, Taste, Smell, and Hearing. I consider only the main character’s POV for the scene I’m writing and then run their POV through the list. I also type this out in red.

EXAMPLE: What if my main POV character is a school teacher and the scene takes place on the playground? My list might look like this:

Touch: the chain links of a swing, a young child’s hand, some stray trash blowing across the schoolyard, an abandoned lunchbox

Sight: children climbing on the monkey bars, one child sitting by himself off to the side, a kick ball soaring over the fence into the street

Taste: bitter aftertaste of coffee, cinnamon chewing gum

Smell: hint of autumn on the breeze, scent of cherry ChapStick she uses

Hear: children laughing, footsteps running across asphalt, the sound of a school bell

Sometimes as I write out the 5 Senses I stumble upon a possible symbol to weave through my scene.

5 + 5 + 1

The 1 stands for the main emotion of the POV character in the scene. It’s vital to determine what is the specific emotion the POV character experiences in the scene. This way, your reader isn’t yanked around emotionally. Use one word: anxious, rejected, elated, content. Write this down too — yes, in red.

This prep work only takes 10-15 minutes and then I’m ready to start writing. I don’t have to interrupt my forward motion by wondering about Storyworld — what my character might see or hear or touch. Knowing the character’s main emotion keeps the scene anchored.

TIP: You can also use the 5+5+1 Prep a Scene Equation as you finish writing for the day. Consider the scene you’ll start writing tomorrow and type out the 5 Ws, the 5 Senses, and the POV character’s main emotion for the scene you’ll work on tomorrow before calling it quits for the day. That way, you’ll have a jumpstart on tomorrow’s word count.


Writer’s Math: How to Prep a Scene with 5+5+1 by Beth K. Vogt (Click to Tweet)

But how can I ensure my fast draft is as strong as it can be?~ by Beth K. Vogt (Click to Tweet)

It only takes 10-15 minutes and then I’m ready to start writing.~ by Beth K. Vogt (Click to Tweet)

Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an Air Force family physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. Now Beth believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” As a contemporary romance novelist, Beth is a 2016 Christy Award winner and 2016 Carol Award winner for her novel Crazy Little Thing Called Love. She was also a 2015 RITA® Finalist for her novel Somebody Like You, which was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2014. In 2015, Beth introduced her destination wedding series with both an e-novella, Can’t Buy Me Love, and a novel, Crazy Little Thing Called Love. She continued the series in 2016 with the e-novella You Can’t Hurry Love (May) and the novel Almost Like Being in Love (June). Her novella A November Bride was part of the Year of Wedding Series by Zondervan. Beth enjoys writing contemporary romance because she believes there’s more to happily-ever-after than the fairy tales tell us. Find out more about her books at bethvogt.com. An established magazine writer and former editor of Connections, the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth is also part of the leadership team for My Book Therapy, the writing community founded by best-selling author Susan May Warren. She lives in Colorado with her husband Rob, who has adjusted to discussing the lives of imaginary people, and their youngest daughter, Christa, who loves to play volleyball and enjoys writing her own stories.