Picking the Scene

For a while now, I have been fascinated with the ideas that stream out of 37signals and their blog. I read through Getting Real: The book knowing that although it was written for the design of a web app, that it held the foundations of helping with telling a story.

Their theory is to “mock something simple, see how it feels, decide what to do next. Rinse and repeat, and let the design unfold.” You should stay flexible and be willing to toss anything out if it isn’t working.

But I could never figure out how much of to mock up. Since I was working in stories up to 120 pages (give or take) how does one do it. Do you do the whole story in an outline or an act or a sequence?

Today, Ryan posted “Why do we plan up front?” where he talks about designing his new condo and he revealed the part that I had been missing or misunderstanding. He says, “Pick the perfect sofa, put it in the living room, and feel it out. What is needed next? What would compliment the room now? What’s the next-most-important thing?”

Start with a scene. Build it, get it up and running. Don’t worry about all the details, about what needs to happen at the end of Act 2 when the source of your idea is in Act 1. Build the one scene or sequence and then step back and look at it.

This is the opposite of what so many writing professionals tell us but I think if you’re not writing what you know because of what you don’t know then this can be a beginning to the work.