Tag Archives: scenes

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 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?