Tag Archives: novel scene

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.)

What’s in a Scene? Part 2. (Creating Smooth Transitions in Writing)

take ownershipIn this hectic world we write in, transitions are what keep our ideas together. They are what make our stories flow. Without smooth transitions, our words are unable to make music.

Transitions establish coherent connections between sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters. In basic terms, transitions direct readers. They show readers what to do with all the information that’s being presented to them. They give readers cues to understanding how our ideas go together.

Without effective transitions, readers are jolted from the story. Think of it like a winding river, readers are floating along blissfully, when suddenly they hit a massive rock in the middle of the river. Ouch! Don’t let readers hit the rock. Guide them around the rock, so they can continue to float contently down the river.

If you get feedback about your writing and the comments contain words like “choppy,” “abrupt,” “how is this related?” etc., then you may need to work on your transitions. Some other hints you need to focus more on your transitions are:

  • Readers have trouble following your train of thought (not what’s in your head, but what’s down on the paper – what’s in your story).
  • Your story jumps from one idea to another like rapid fire. When people think, their thoughts tend to hop from point A to point B, skipping everything in between. In writing, you have to put at least some of that in between down on paper, at least enough to help readers make the connection you’ve made. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve all read at least one book where we don’t understand how a character reached the conclusion she did. It’s jarring when that happens and we’re left unable to suspend our disbelief.
  • Writing in chunks. This is where you don’t write in sequential order. You may write the first three chapters of a novel and then skip to the middle of the novel, or you might write all the romantic scenes before going back and writing the action scenes. It’s perfectly fine to do this…I’ve done this. What’s important to remember is that you can’t just paste these various scenes together. You need to write in transitions.

Each transition is an opportunity to keep readers invested. It’s also a chance to have them smash into that rock in the middle of the river.

Here are some tips on avoiding that rock:

Chapters (scenes)

It’s easier to have smooth transitions when a novel is from one point of view (POV). However, many writers elect to have multiple POVs throughout their story. The key to making a multiple POV novel successful is by having clear transitions from one character to another. This doesn’t just mean putting the character’s name at the start of each chapter, but also making each character distinct from the others. If your characters sound the same (and this especially applies to first person narratives), then people will forget halfway through the chapter which character’s perspective they’re reading from. (I don’t know about you, but that’s one of my pet peeves in literature. I can’t stand being partway through a chapter and suddenly having no idea which character’s perspective I’m reading from.)

Regardless of whether or not your novel’s one POV or multiple, creating smooth breaks between chapters is important. How a chapter ends should entice readers to move on to the next chapter. If you’ve ever done or watched relay racing, the break between chapters is the hand off, where the baton transitions from runner A to runner B.

When you’re ending a chapter, think about what you want readers to take to the next chapter. What should they worry about? What should peak their interest? If you can’t answer these questions, then the chapter hasn’t moved the story forward (each chapter should bring something new to the story).

Other things to consider:

  • What triggers the chapter to end?
  • Why does a new chapter begin where it does?
  • Has the tension increased? Changed in any way?

Paragraphs 

Like chapters, every paragraph should have a point. Paragraph transitions let readers know when you’re connecting two ideas or moving on to a new topic. They bring continuity to a novel.

Paragraphs do not exist in a vacuum, therefore it’s vital to have each paragraph unfolding into the next. A good way to think of this is like a puzzle. Each paragraph is a puzzle piece and they all must fit together to create a coherent and engaging whole.

In order to create smooth paragraph transitions, you need to identify how the paragraphs are related (find the relationship between them). Some questions to ask yourself: Does the next paragraph make a similar point? A new point? Provide emphasis? Elaborate? Contradict the previous information?

Once you know the relationship, you can choose words or phrases to aid in paragraph transitions. These can be more traditional statements, like “also” or “in addition to,” or they can be more like clues being dropped for readers to collect. Paragraphs should unfold information to readers in such a way that readers feel they’re the ones piecing things together, not being told the story.

Sentences 

Transition sentences are usually the first line of a new paragraph. However, you can also find them as the last line. And then, each sentence must relate to the next one.

As with paragraphs, you can use words like “now” to help smooth over your transitions. Imagery is also a great way to bridge sentences because it’s what shows the five senses. In the end, if you have a common denominator, you can connect any sentence to another sentence.

For example, “I’ve never been much of a people person. I tend to prefer sitting off by myself and living in a dream world. My imagination is much more interesting than day-to-day life, but when I met Sarah, that all changed. Her fantasies were just as grand as mine. We’d spend hours off in the woods together fighting trolls and goblins, rescuing babies that suddenly transformed into fire-breathing dragons. One even turned into a unicorn, except it tried to kill us with its horn and when it farted toxic rainbows came out of its butt.”

Creating those smooth transitions takes practice. The more practice, the better. And like with almost everything in writing, most transitions aren’t going to be perfect the first time through, and that’s okay. When you’re editing, you’ll go back and work on honing them.

Have you ever gotten feedback on “choppy” writing and weren’t sure what to do? Did you know what to do?