You’re writing Kindle fiction. Your aim is to SELL, and to do that you must entertain readers. Scenes in fiction are dramatic, so they’re a way to ensure that readers keep reading. Scenes put readers right in the middle of your action; they can’t wait to see what happens next.
I’m lazy writer. I like to find the shortest way of doing something, so that I can write more. Always. So I write in scenes, and I advise my students to do that too. However the “write in scenes” advice comes a couple of with pitfalls.
Firstly, let’s remind ourselves of what a scene is, and how many scenes you need for various forms of fiction.
In Writing Short Stories: How Many Scenes Do You Need?, we discussed that a scene is a unit of action, and said that:
Assuming that your average scene length is 1500 words:
7 scenes for a short story: 10,000 words
27 scenes for a novella: 40,000 words
60 scenes for a novel: 90,000 words
Here are the two pitfalls to be aware of when you’re writing in scenes:
- Scenes speed up your novel/ short story; and
- Save your scenes for periods of drama: something MUST change in a scene.
1. Scenes speed up your story’s pace: slow down occasionally
Some authors write primarily in scenes, and their (short) sequels. A scene is drama: action. Your character has a goal for the scene; at the end of the scene, he’s failed to achieve that goal. Alternatively, he achieves that goal, but something else goes wrong.
Whatever happens in the scene, it’s followed by the scene’s sequel: your character taking stock for a moment, and deciding what to do next.
The trouble with stories (whether short stories or novels), is that if your story is all an up and down process of scene and sequel, your story can lose energy. This despite the fact that your story’s moving quickly. Readers sense that they’re being manipulated. They don’t like it, because they’re taken out of the story.
In your first draft therefore, hew to scene/ sequel, but in the next draft, add something more. This “more” can be backstory, juicing up some scenes — it’s up to you.
If your beta readers tell you that they loved your story, but… and then can’t explain what the “but” is, because your story seems perfect on the surface, that may be the problem. It’s all surface.
2. Cut flabby scenes: ask yourself what CHANGES in a scene
When you’re revising, after your first draft, look at your scenes with a cold eye and heart. Ask yourself, for each scene, what WHAT CHANGES HERE?
If nothing much changes, and you say to yourself: “But my character’s walking his dog in the park: I need the scene because it shows that even though he’s a billionaire, he’s just a normal guy at heart.”
Or you say: “But I need this scene. This character is murdered half way through the book; no one will care if they don’t get to know him…”
In both instances above, the writer may be 100% correct. The scene works, and it’s needed.
However, recall that we said:
“A scene is defined as a unit of action; the operative word being ACTION. Something happens in a scene. If nothing much happens, it’s not a scene.”
So, if you feel you need a scene, make sure that something happens in the scene — something that’s relevant to your story, and therefore CHANGES your story.
Your dog walking billionaire could see a bunch of kids playing in a sandpit, and realize that he wants his own children — that’s a change.
The murder victim may realize that he knows something related to one of the other characters in your story: a change.
If you always ensure that something dramatic happens in a scene — something changes — readers will be happy to keep reading.
So, in conclusion, in your revisions watch your pacing, because scenes speed up the pace, and watch for flabby scenes, in which nothing much changes.
Be careful not to mess around with your scenes too much in your first draft.
In your first draft, let your story grow
Finally, remember that in your first draft, just keep the advice to “write in scenes” in mind.
Keep writing. If you get too left-brained, you’ll switch off your flow of inspiration, and will damage your story. Think of your story as a plant. You can’t yank on it to make it grow faster. Let it grow. You can prune it later.
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →
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