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.

Building a Fictional Town

by +AneMulligan @AneMulligan

Building a fictional town in a historical novel isn’t the easiest of tasks I’ve taken on, but it is fun. I prefer fictional towns to real ones, because nobody can tell me there was never a grocery store at the corner of Main and Peachtree. In face I’ve only written one novella set in a real town (a favor to the mayor of Sugar Hill).
I love to write stories about women’s friendships and how they navigate through life’s troubles together. Some make good decisions; some make bad ones. After the last book in my Chapel Springs series (Life in Chapel Springs, Sept 2017) was turned in, I decided to go back to a book I had started a few years ago.

Originally, I planned to set this in a town nearby me, Buford, GA. However, because of the very real Bona Allen Tannery, everyone who lived in Buford was employed and unscathed by the Great Depression. So I needed to go south, into the farm country, where since the Civil Way, life had been hardscrabble for farmers.

With the blessing of my agent (since like Chapel Springs, this series has an ensemble cast of strong women surviving the Great Depression), I went back to a story I’d started and fallen in love with.

I had my characters for the first book, In High Cotton, and the basic plot outline (I’m a planster). Now, I started on the town. I knew the it was in a very rural farm area in south Georgia. I researched the area, found as many photos as I could. Then I researched what stores would likely be in a tiny hamlet. I found an area where three rivers meet (or two meet and form the third). It was perfect. In the middle of nowhere, I named the town Rivers End.

I came up with the grocery (owned by the main character, Maggie Parker), the dry goods store, a feed & seed, a barber shop, a gas station, a tiny weekly newspaper, a Post Office, a saloon, a small movie house, 2 boarding houses, a school/church/courthouse, and the small train station, and of course the jail.

I drew a map so I could keep track of where things are. But I’m a visual writer. I need to see it so I can draw my readers into the town. That’s when it got tough. I have such a strong visual image in my head, trying to find a photo that fits it is really hard.

Undaunted, I searched several ways. Finally, I came up with 9 photos that if I take parts from one, a “feeling” from another and this building and that one, I can paste my town together. One of those and my map are scattered through out this post. Since most of my storeowners live in an apartment above their store, I didn’t want 3 or 4 story buildings. Two stories would do, thank you very much.


I drew a map so I could keep track of where things are.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)

Ane Mulligan
 is the former president of Novel Rocket. While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband, chef son, and a dog of Biblical proportion. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.

Writing Southern

by +AneMulligan @AneMulligan

I write Southern-fried fiction. But how is writing Southern different to writing fiction set elsewhere? It’s a lot more than throwing a few “y’alls” into the story. Southern is a way of life, a set of priorities intrinsic to the South. It’s a sixty-year-old, former pro football player calling his parents “mama” and “daddy.”

Like cowboys have the Code of the West, Southern women have their Code of the South. That mind set digs its heels in and won’t let go. Just try to wear white shoes or pants after Labor Day. You’ll see. I’ve tried to break that rule ,but I get as far as the bedroom door and run back to the closet to change.

I’m used to crowded freeways in other states, but it’s different in the South. I’ll never forget the day I had a blowout on the Atlanta 285 Bypass. The traffic was moving at a brisk eighty miles per hour with me in the second to the fast lane. In that first moment of panic, I looked in my rearview mirror and the vehicles parted behind me like Moses parted the Red Sea. I was able to move to the right shoulder. Before I could even remove my seatbelt, a pickup truck with four men pulled up behind me. Those good ole boys changed my tire and me back on the road in five minutes flat. That’s Southern, folks.

In a lot of cities, you’d wait until you turned old and gray.

Southern is expecting rescue. It’s warm hospitality and open doors. It’s graciousness and charm. It’s hallowed traditions carried on long after anyone remembers the origin. It’s iron in the veins of women as delicate as flowers.

Wherever you live and set your novels, be sure you know the customs and traditions. I’ve lived in three corners of the country. They are different. I set When the Bough Breaks in two states, then I plopped a Georgia peach in the middle of New York’s capitol. Having lived it both places, I was able to make the reader see and feel the difference.


Writing Southern is more than a few y’alls tossed in.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to tweet)

Southern is a way of life, a set of priorities intrinsic to the South.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, award-winning author Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and bestselling novelist. She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband, chef son, and a dog of Biblical proportion. You can find Ane on her website, Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.

Write a Novella? Easy Peasy …

by +AneMulligan @AneMulligan

Or so I thought.

Why didn’t someone tell me? Sure, a novella contains fewer words—about one quarter of a full novel to be exact. And I thought that meant less work. Ha! I mistakenly figured I wouldn’t need all that goal and motivation stuff. After all, this was short and a romance.

Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

It took a weeklong binge of Hallmark Christmas movies to open my mind to an ugly fact: It takes the same amount of time to work up the character interviews, learn their goals, motivations, lies, wounds, etc. And that list doesn’t even include the plot. Yikes.

I didn’t think of that part when I signed up. No, when some friends called for submissions for a compilation, I just opened my big mouth. The deed done, I needed to figure out how writing a novella was different.

I’m used to penning 90K+ word novels. I show and don’t tell, and I write in deep POV. You don’t do it the same way in a novella. You have to tell a bit more in 20K words or you’ll never get the story inside your word count. But you have to do it so it doesn’t feel like telling. Great.

If you read my last post here on layering you’ll understand more about how I write. You still have to layer in a novella, but there isn’t room for a single word that doesn’t serve double duty. Make that triple duty.

So what’s a writer to do?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I called my critique partners a lot. I had to reconfigure the story I had in mind. Then I wrote a few chapters … and rewrote them … and rewrote—well, you get the idea. I’ve redone all the GMC several times to get it right.

I’ve think written a novel’s worth of words trying to get the 20K right. I have a whole new respect for novella authors.


How does writing a novella compare to writing a full novel? (Click to tweet)

I have a whole new respect for novella authors.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)

Award-winning author Ane Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. She’s a novelist, a humor columnist, playwright and creative director of a community theatre. She resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a dog of Biblical proportion. You can find Ane at her website, Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.