Tag Archives: action

What Makes a Great Scene?

Novels are the combination of a number of scenes. A scene is where an incident occurs. Within a novel there are any number of scenes, but without scenes nothing happens in a piece of writing. Scenes move the story along. They get characters from point A to B to C. They are the showing aspect of novels.

Each scene has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Each has a larger picture and a smaller one. Each has an action, event, and consequence.

Typically a scene is broken up by chapters, breaks within chapters, or two to four summary-like sentences between paragraphs.

Sometimes a scene is carried over between chapters, where the end of a chapter acts as an uptick, some revelation that ups the tension to keep readers interested. Regardless of whether a scene ends or not, the end of a chapter should have an uptick. Then, the first line or two of the next chapter should grab readers’ attention.

Ever read a book you couldn’t put down? One where you neglected to do other things, like working out or going to the grocery store? Maybe you stayed up a few extra hours to finish the book, and then were exhausted the next day at work.

Many times one of the reasons you couldn’t put the book down is because you were compelled to read the next chapter, and the next, and the next. The end of each chapter left you wanting more, needing more.

Let’s break a scene down:

Action (the process of doing something)

Actions have a desired goal/outcome. Characters act in a certain way in the hope of producing a specific result.

Action is not passive. It’s not just movement. It’s the character going after something he wants.

This stage of a scene is dramatic. It unfolds from one moment to the next. There’s conflict and increased tension. Often there is an aspect unknown to the protagonist building in this section, think of someone lurking in the shadows.

Action leads to an event. 

Event (the result)

This is the direct result of the action. This can be success, failure, setbacks, revelations, etc.

Was the goal accomplished? Did something get in the way and divert the protagonist’s attention?

The event changes the protagonist in some way. Without constant change, readers’ lose interest, so keep your protagonist on their toes, with occasional moments that shove them down into the dirt. Doing so will force them to arise anew.

An event leads to a consequence. 

Consequence (the effect of the result)

There can be a single or multiple consequences to an event. These consequences can be big or small, sometimes both. They can be intentional or unintentional. Some consequences will be immediate, while others are delayed.

Like events, consequences change the protagonist. Many times consequences are unforeseen and force the protagonist to adapt or die/get captured/some ominous thing. 

Summary

Every action leads to an event and every event leads to a consequence. A scene wouldn’t be complete without all three stages because all three stages are linked.

Each scene must follow the main plot of your novel on some level. After all, the big picture is the main plot.

What does your protagonist wish to accomplish overall?

Scenes are the stepping stones to your character getting what he wants (or at least striving to get the desired outcome). bridesmaids-on-airplane2

For a good scene, you need two to three great details that stick with readers after the scene is over. Without those details, the scene will fade into the background and become part of a generic catalogue of scenes within readers’ minds.

Think of your favorite books. Can you recall specific scenes within them? How vivid are they? Can you picture them in your head?

If so, those are great scenes. Study them. Figure out the different stages. Figure out why you remember them. Learn from them.

How do you go about writing scenes?

(Photo courtesy of pixgood.)

Creating a Compelling Character

What comes to mind when you think about characters in fiction? How about your characters? How do you reveal them to readers?

Creating characters readers care about is an essential step to creating a successful novel. It’s not only a character’s physical description. In fact, what a character looks like is only a very small part of creating a compelling character, and probably one of the least important aspects to a character. (Think about it. When you and your friends read the same novel and then talk about it, how often do they picture the characters the same way you did? I know my imagination adds to characters. I’ve even had it where a novel says a guy has black hair, and yet I still picture him blond.)

Here are some ways to reveal a character to readers:

  • Voice. What a character says and what they don’t say tells you something about what that character is like. Also important is how a character says what they say. Think about the statement, “I love it.” If spoken flatly that statement means something very different than spoken excitedly.
  • Action. What a character does in a given situation, or what they don’t do. Action is character. Actions carry more meaning than words. People can say anything. It’s easy to speak, but it’s what a character does that’s truly revealing.
  • Background. A character’s background. I.e.- occupation, family, where he’s from, era, significant events of the past and how he handled those situations, culture, religion, economic situation, gender, race, individual skills and society’s evaluation of those skills, his philosophy of the world (how he views the world), etc.

A character’s reaction to significant events in his life is telling. Multiple people can experience the same event, but each individual reacts differently. Most people have lost a loved one sometime during their life, yet not everyone breaks down in tears or shuts down emotionally, or smiles and seems like nothing’s wrong.

There’s a quote a professor once shared with me. It sums up the previous paragraph. “Not every male who’s close to their mother ends up like Norman Bates.”

  • Internal World of the Character. What a character fears or wants in the larger sense. This relates back to last week’s post on internal pressure, where a character weighs his fear of a situation against the possible outcomes or gains from overcoming his fear.
  • Exposition. This is what you tell the reader. Exposition provides context about the character directly to the reader. This is a vital part of creating a compelling character; however don’t go overboard with exposition. Telling a reader something is good, as long as you don’t forget about also showing the character to the reader.

When creating a compelling character, you need something to tie all the pieces together. Characters, just like people, are made up of a ton of different parts. There’s a reason many consider humans puzzles. But just as puzzles can be put together to form a whole, so must a character. If a character isn’t whole, then his actions won’t make sense.

How do you go about creating compelling characters?

Writing From Blah to Wow: Kicking Your Writing Up a Notch

Writing is no easy task. Whether it’s poetry, short stories, or novels, writing takes time and dedication. As Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Sometimes nothing comes to you. Sometimes what you write is just awful. But the point is to write. If you keep writing, the muse will come.

Here are some tips from famous authors:

Jump right in. “A short story must have a single mood, and every sentence must build towards it.” – Edgar Allen Poe

Now, while this quote has to do with short stories, it can also apply to novels. You want to begin your writing with a sentence, a paragraph, a scene that grabs readers’ attention. In school, you learn how introductions are paramount for essays and papers. This isn’t school. This is creative writing. Skip the introduction and go straight for the meat.

Keep the action going. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard

Don’t lump all the action in one place. Spread it out. This is fiction, not real life. In novels not everything can be happening at once. Layering all the action right on top of each other jumbles things, makes things frantic. Extend the excitement.

Say it out loud. “If you are using dialogue – say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” – John Steinbeck

Write your conversations the way you’d speak. People tend to talk in shorter sentences. We don’t describe every little detail and we don’t always use proper English. If you’re alone, searching for your car in a multi-story parking lot and say, “I cannot find my car. I remember parking in lot 2B, but now I’m not so sure,” that doesn’t sound legit. Maybe if you were talking to another person, but to yourself? No. Saying, “Where the hell is my car?” Does, especially if you’ve been looking for you car for twenty minutes.

Even with the best advice, you still need to find what works for you. It’s good to know what successful authors advise. And it’s important to read. A ton. Reading novels, both in your genre and outside of it, will help you figure out what works in a novel and what doesn’t work.

But, sometimes, advice and successful novels can lead you astray. We all have those few novels we’ve read where we can’t understand how they got published, how they became so successful, or why people loved them so much. Try to figure out why, but in the end you need to write about the characters and plot you can’t stop thinking about.

What advice from famous authors do you follow?