Tag Archives: plot twists

What’s in a Scene? Part 1.

When readers open a book, they expect to be enthralled by our writing. They want to become absorbed by the scenes, so that they find themselves in the middle of the fictional world you’ve created. However, sometimes writers miss the mark and readers are left standing on the outside, looking in.

If you’ve ever gotten feedback that sounds something like this, “Nothing really happened in this chapter,” or, “I felt like I could put the book down at this point,” or, “There’s something off here, but I can’t put my finger on it,” or, sometimes, “I don’t remember what happened in the scene I just read,” then you’ve missed the mark and readers aren’t getting sucked in.

How do we, as writers, go about remedying this?

We need to make sure each scene has a reason to be there. If there’s no point to the scene, or the chapter, then it can be cut. (I know that’s a bit harsh sounding. We dedicate so much time to writing each scene that it can be a challenge to discard some of them, but doing so can make your novel better.)

The best scenes are those that impact readers and characters in diverse ways.

Here are some ways to create good scenes:

  1. Throw in a twist…as long as it makes sense. No random loopholes, please.
  2. Have a hope or a goal revealed, faced, challenged, turn into a failure, etc. This applies to fears as well.
  3. Increase the anticipation and/or up the stakes.
  4. Foreshadow. This is a great way to keep readers interested, just don’t go overboard. Too much foreshadowing can overwhelm readers or make them roll their eyes because the answers to the story’s main questions become obvious before they’re meant to.
  5. Incorporate events that move the story along. Have a big battle looming in the near future? What kind of things do you have to do to prepare for that battle? What obstacles do you face?
  6. Answer a few of the story’s questions…or raise a few more questions. You can always do both. By answering one question, three more may be brought to light. And those three may be tougher to answer than the original question.
  7. Bring in new, important information about the story or characters. However, if you’re going to do this make sure this information comes about in a natural way. The new information should feel organic to the story.
  8. Look at your characters. How do your characters change throughout the scene? Are these changes physical, emotional, both? How do the events within the story alter the characters’ perceptions of themselves and the world around them? At what moment(s) do these changes occur?

Creating good scenes is more than just having a goal dashed or learning to swordfight or getting your first kiss, it’s about flow. Without a natural flow, scenes can feel stilted and artificial.

Have you ever read a book where you just can’t put it down? You put off doing other things, or you forget about them altogether because you’re absorbed with the novel you’re reading?

If the answer’s yes, then that novel flowed well. The transitions between sentences, paragraphs, and chapters were so smooth you didn’t notice them. (When transitions aren’t smooth, readers get pulled out of the story because they stumble over those transitions. They lose their focus and have to find it again in order to get back into the story.)

In a way, scenes are a balancing act. You have to focus on various elements to pull off an engaging scene. If one of those elements is lacking, readers will feel something is wrong, even if they can’t tell you what they feel is off about that scene.

Next week, I’ll post about how to create smooth transitions.

What things do you do to create enticing scenes?

Take The Reins: Controlling Your Novel’s Pacing

Pacing is about building the thrill. It’s about keeping readers intrigued for the entire novel without exhausting them. This tends to be especially true for young adult novels, where events occur at a faster pace than adult books.

Pacing is the speed of your prose. For example, shorter sentences increase the pace, while longer ones slow it down. So, for action scenes, shorter sentences work better. For those languid, romantic ones, longer sentences will do.

Good pacing has an ebb and flow. There’s a balance between slower scenes and high-speed scenes. If you have a breakneck pace for the entire novel, readers will burn out. So much will be occurring so quickly that everything becomes a blur, and nothing, or very little, will be remembered. However, have too many slow scenes, and readers will be more likely to put down the novel. And not pick it back up.

Here are some tips to reach that right balance:

  1. Begin the story at a critical point. The protagonist is at a crossroads. Difficult choices must be made immediately. Doing this will instantly draw readers in.
  2. Cut the boring bits. Novels aren’t like real life in many ways. One of those ways is that only the most tension-filled and vital moments are included. Readers don’t care what random dreams character A had, or the three different outfits character B spent an hour trying on, or the multiple paragraphs on character C’s elementary school crush that moved away in the third grade.
  3. Dialogue vs. Description. Dialog tends to be read more quickly because the sentences are usually shorter. Descriptive scenes are denser, and so read more slowly. But, you need to be able to put both dialogue and description together to truly keep readers interested. Description that quickly sets the mood and shows that something’s about to happen, will lead readily into important dialog, and give readers a clear picture of what’s going on.
  4. Start each chapter with a crucial moment. Chapters allow for breaks in the story. However, many readers will read the first sentence or two of the next chapter to see what’s coming up. If those first sentences grab them, they’ll keep reading, instead of putting the book down.
  5. Don’t put all the action in one scene. By splitting the action up into several scenes, readers will be left with cliffhangers that will keep them reading. And when finishing off a series of scenes always include something that makes the story move forward.
  6. At times, slow it down. Sometimes pacing needs to slow down to keep balance in the novel. These times are when you add in relevant description. What people look like, what the weather is like, or where the events are occurring. This allows people to build images in their minds, and to add to those images later as more description is added throughout the novel.
  7. Unpredictability. When readers see what’s coming, they’ll assume and anticipate what happens. This takes a lot of power away from your scenes. If readers can’t guess what’s about to happen, then scenes become fascinating.

What kind of pacing do you prefer?

The Unexpected: Plot Twists

Plot twists create intrigue. They give readers that thrill that keeps them reading. However, creating a good plot twist isn’t as simple as wanting one.

There are ways to help you create plot twists that satisfy readers.

Know Your Characters

Your plot and characters are not separate. Having your characters do certain actions only for the sake of moving the plot forward (such as to get two characters to break up) can make your characters seem like they’re going through the motions instead of living them.

Interesting plot twists emerge from your characters. They match up with character personalities and echo out from their pasts (because our past experiences do effect our present selves).

If you know your characters, they often become real to you and start adding to the story as if they are dictating what you should write. This is a good thing. It means that your characters’ actions will be consistent with their personalities and past experiences. This makes them believable, which may mean what you originally envisioned for the plot doesn’t work anymore. But what arises from this writing may be the thrilling plot twist you needed.

Reader Expectations

There are certain aspects of novels that people expect, and are what happens. The hero has to face many, increasingly difficult challenges. There’s a monumental climax often involving a life or death situation or decision. But in the end, things work out or there’s at least hope of things working out.

So, how can we make a novel interesting when what readers expect is what usually happens? We present the scenes and actions in ways readers don’t expect.

Look at your plot and find what outcomes are obvious. Then, search for ways to add a twist. Some ways to help think up twists:

  • Brainstorm: Free thinking to see what you come up with. This can help you find ideas that aren’t completely obvious and aren’t so far out in left field that they are utterly impossible.
  • Make things worse: Find ways/situations that will injure your protagonist physically and emotionally.
  • Unveil a secret: Disclosing information that relates to the problem at hand can surprise readers. If done right, it can uncover what’s really going on or add a new layer that was previously unexpected.
  • Expose a character: Unanticipated betrayals and liars alter readers’ expectations, especially if the betrayal comes from someone the protagonist trusts.

Flip Your World View

Really good plot twists change the way your protagonist sees the world. Create a sense of foreboding or have the protagonist see another character as mean, and then turn the foreboding into relief and have the mean character end up being a nice guy.

Realistic Surprises

The most effective plot twists aren’t totally predictable and don’t come out of the blue. Think about surprising with the familiar. When the readers get to the end of the book, they can go back and see little, subtle hints placed throughout the novel directing them toward the true ending. They typically won’t see these hints until after they finishing reading the novel, but they can go back and say, “I should have seen that coming.”

Lay your groundwork so that things don’t pop out of nowhere. Groundwork allows for indirect hints, so that when the ending comes it’s not without some warning.

Some Examples Of Novels With Great Plot Twists:

  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  • My Sister’s Keeper and Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

In the end, you’ll give readers what they didn’t expect, but in a way that delights them.