The basic building block of a book is a ‘scene’ (to borrow from the cinema). It can be as short as one paragraph, or as long as dozens of pages. It is when you get to see one dialogue or action happening at one time in the same setting. If there is a change in the setting, the time frame, or in the character perspectives, you are in a new scene. Each scene can be considered like a brick, and a book is a castle built out of these bricks. Weak bricks make for a weak story.
You might overhear a scrap of dialogue while sitting on the bus, a scrap of dialogue that excites and inspires you. Suddenly, a plot point that you have been working on falls into place. It is like a hummingbird … a fleeting glimpse of something rare and beautiful; and like a hummingbird, they can disappear in a moment of distraction. When you think of a scene, you should write it down (another reason for always carrying a notebook/pen or a phone). I can think of nothing worse than being stuck driving alone on the highway, knowing that I’ve just had a marvellous idea, and that I will probably forget it as soon as someone cuts me off or I have to take an exit. It’s torture!
Once you are able to work on a scene, just get it down. Don’t worry if it isn’t going to slot neatly into you main manuscript straight away. You are trying to capture an idea, a concept, a feeling. Once you have lured your hummingbird, you don’t want to frighten it away by trying to cage it. This is a first draft … you will smooth out the lumpy bits later.
This is where a lot of writers start having problems. This great scene doesn’t fit into the main flow of your story and so you try to ‘edit’ it while you are writing it. This will be when it all falls apart. You will lose you flow and may even get blocked. Don’t do it. Let the words fly onto the page. Give them the freedom to do what they want.
Don’t clip there wings before they have had a chance to find the sky.