Do you love telling stories? You must do, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. If you’re a new author however, chances are that scenes in fiction are a mystery to you. When do you SHOW something in a scene, rather than TELLING, in a narrative? How much dialogue can you use?
The more you write, the more automatic these decisions become. You won’t consciously think about them anymore; you just write. Actually “just write” is good advice for your first draft. When you constrain yourself, you can choke off your creativity, and block.
Scenes are magic. They keep readers reading, because… Scenes are action. Something’s happening. Characters are fighting. (If there’s no conflict, get some… we talked about characters’ thoughts and emotions here.)
Once you become comfortable with scenes, you’ll love them, because they’re easy to write — you just toss your characters together, and they fight. You enjoy it, and your readers do too.
These tips will help you to write powerful scenes.
1. Write your VITAL scenes: never cheat readers
You’re writing a romance novel. Which scenes are vital? The romantic ones, of course. You need to SHOW the romance, so make sure that you write those scenes. Otherwise readers will feel cheated.
Writing a mystery? Similarly, write those scenes which are most important: the discovery of the body, finding clues, interviewing suspects, and so on.
From this, you’ll see that your “vital” scenes are those scenes which the readers of your genre expect.
Plotter? Excellent. You’ll be able to plan your vital scenes before you start writing. Once you’ve plotted your short story or novel, mark your “must-show” scenes — the scenes which are the highlight of your novel. Those scenes will be the turning points of your story.
If you’re a pantser, you won’t know which of your scenes are important until you’ve written your story. Now’s the time to outline your story, and choose your vital scenes. Punch up these scenes.
2. Use senses to convey the point of view (POV) character’s mood
You need to use sensory details throughout your fiction of course. They drop the reader right into your story. Sensory details convey mood. You can convey a lot of emotion depending on what your POV character notices in a scene.
“I have never felt more alive in my life. It is a bright blue sky day, the birds are lunatic with the warmth, the river outside is gushing past, and I am utterly alive.”
From Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
3. Skip the small-talk: jump into the scene as close to the end as possible
It’s vital that something happens in a scene.
At the end of a scene, your characters know more than they did before. Your POV character has either achieved his goal for the scene, or he hasn’t. Either way, he needs to deal with it.
Start your scene in the middle. If you need to convey some information, you can do that with your POV character’s thoughts, after you’ve started the scene. Once you’ve established the conflict in the scene, you can devote a paragraph or two to showing how your character got from Paris to New York, or whatever you need to establish.
Avoid the boring stuff
In a TV show or film, you’ll see the main character driving to a meeting, or walking into a room. Avoid doing that in your fiction. Avoid all slow build-ups to scenes.
While we’re talking about slow build-ups, avoid showing your main character waking up in the morning (unless he wakes up next to a dead body), or experiencing something or other that turns out to be a dream.
Slow build-ups are just authorial throat-clearing. You write it because you’re gearing up to something. Write it by all means in your first draft, then be ruthless and slash it in your second draft. Build-ups are boring.
Only keep the good stuff, where something’s happening. (We’ve talked about backstory, and why you should eliminate it.)
There you go: three tips which will help you to write powerful scenes in your short stories and novels.
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