New authors struggle with their scenes. They know that when you write powerful scenes, readers respond, and the result is bestselling fiction.
Bestselling authors are masters of their scenes. Their prose may be less than elegant, but it delivers an emotional punch. It’s always amusing when unsuccessful writers sneer at bestselling authors, whining that a certain bestselling author “can’t write” and doesn’t “deserve” success. This is nonsense.
As I’ve said many times: let go of the words in your fiction. Focus on FEELING.
If you focus on emotions, literary snobs may sneer, but you can laugh all the way to the proverbial bank. Emotion is delivered in scenes: the action’s happening now, and readers are engaged.
One of the biggest challenges for new authors is getting a handle on scenes. So, let’s do that today.
Scenes are the building blocks of your fiction
In the 21st century, every reader understands drama.
TV and movie stories are delivered in scenes. If you want lots of readers, you need to learn to deliver your stories in scenes too.
Readers are impatient. They just want the story. Deliver. Show, rather than tell. “Showing” means writing in scenes.
Here’s a graphic to help you to write hot scenes.
Now let’s look at the elements which make up a scene.
Scene elements: how to set a scene
Here are the five elements of a hot scene.
1. Where and when, time and place: a scene plays out, NOW
Scenes are set somewhere. On a beach. In a warehouse. In a penthouse apartment. On a train… a plane… in a car.
Think of each of your scenes as a scene in a movie. Your point of view (POV) character in your scene is your camera. Orient your readers, so that they know where they are, and with whom they’re there.
Please don’t stop the action to do this. Use sensory elements (see below) to establish your scenes.
2. Characters have goals
Every character in your scene has a goal. And a secret. We all want things, all the time. Your fictional characters ACT on their goals. Their actions lead to conflict with other characters.
3. Character goals lead to: action, conflict, suspense… DRAMA
It’s often easier to study scenes while watching a movie. There’s less chance you’ll get lost in the words. So watch a movie, with a pen and paper. Pause the action when a scene ends, and replay the scene. Analyze it.
Work out what the characters’ goals are in the scene.
4. Sensory elements: sight, sound, hearing, touch: your readers LIVE your scenes
Ground your scenes in reality. What does your POV character hear? What’s he touching? Provide sensory details, so that readers can live the scenes with your characters.
5. Emotion, via characters’ thoughts, to help readers to FEEL
Consider this sentence.
He told her: “You deserve to die.”
Dramatic? Not unless your POV character thinks, and reacts. Reveal your POV character’s thoughts when he hears the statement. If you can do that, your readers will live the scene with the character. They’ll be there with him.
Fence in your scenes…
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to dilute the effect of a scene, and wander off the point. Write down one, and at the most three, things you want a reader to experience in a scene.
- NO flashbacks during a scene;
- No extraneous characters (limit the characters in most scenes. Battle and crowd scenes are the exception. Maintain the POV’s character’s focus. What’s he seeing and doing? Feeling? Thinking?)
- NO tangents. Maintain your POV character’s focus. Let’s say that your POV character has been kidnapped. He’s unlikely to think about a dinner party that’s coming up in three days. New authors go off on strange tangents in scenes all the time. DON’T. Be there with your character, thinking what he’s thinking, and feeling it.
- NO head-hopping: one POV per scene. Many bestselling authors head-hop. (That is, they change their POV character in the course of a scene.) You can do it too, once you’re a bestseller. It’s all too easy to confuse readers, so don’t do it until you’re selling thousands of copies of your fiction every day.
Writing hot scenes will become second nature to you
Initially, you’ll feel as if there’s a lot to remember in scenes. Over time, you won’t need to think about the elements. Adding them becomes natural, and automatic.
Enjoy writing scenes. Hot scenes are the building blocks of bestselling fiction — they’re entertaining to write, as well as to read. Have fun. 🙂
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You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can’t get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped. You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels.