When sitting down to blog about writing a novel, there are so many aspects to consider it’s easy to develop brain-freeze. What to discuss? Character development? Plot structure? Dialogue? Theme? Goal, motive and conflict? These and many more are all vital elements of a novel. Today, I decided to focus on the basic building blocks of a story: scenes.
There are many definitions of a scene. One that resonates with me was written by Timothy Hallinan, and goes like this:
“A scene is a unit of story in which something changes. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and at the end something is different than it was at the beginning. It may be a character or a situation, or just our understanding of a character or a situation, but whatever it is, it’s changed when the scene is over.”
Based on my long and painful learning process that involved countless rejections, over twenty re-writes, several tons of chocolate, and dozens of workshops, culminating in the sale of my first book, I offer the following guidelines for crafting sound scenes:
- Every Scene Must Serve a Purpose: Make sure every scene either moves the plot ahead, or develops a character. If not, be ruthless. CUT THE SCENE, even if it is your favorite. I repeat, even if it’s your favorite.
- Beginning a Scene: The first paragraph of every scene should situate the reader. Let the reader know where the scene is taking place, when it happens, and who the protagonist (POV character) and antagonist(s) are.
- Avoid ‘Talking Heads’: Have your characters engaged in some sort of activity. Do not repeat that activity in the book (e.g. eating a meal, my favorite fallback, being as how eating is one of my favorite things to do). Try to think of an unusual activity for your characters to engage in. An excellent example is the opening scene of Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, where the heroine is stomping down a highway dressed in a beaver suit and encounters the hero, who offers her a ride.
- Populating a Scene: Too much thinking and ruminating gets old very fast, especially if used to inject large tracts of backstory into the book. It’s a good idea to populate each scene, wherever possible, with both a protagonist and an antagonist. Have them interact. Let there be conflict.
- There’s No Such Thing As Coincidence: A coincidence, or ‘remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection’, is a no-no. As a rule of thumb, everything that occurs in your book should have an identifiable cause—no accidental meetings, no serendipitous appearance of the hero on the scene in time to save the heroine.
- Point of View (POV) Within a Scene: When we become as skilled at our craft as, say, Nora Roberts, head-hopping is permissible. A wise novice writer, however, should stick to a single POV within a scene. The only exception to this ‘rule’ I grant myself is during the writing of sex scenes, where I start out in the protagonist’s POV and switch mid-way to the antagonist’s POV (yes, even in sex scenes there is a protagonist and antagonist).
- Action & Reaction: According to Dwight Swain, author of Techniques of the Selling Writer, a story should consist of a series of writing constructs called Action Scenes and Reaction Scenes. An Action Scene refers to a unit of conflict lived through by the character. A Reaction Scene is a unit of transition linking two Action Scenes. A series of alternating Action Scenes and Reaction Scenes builds an entire novel. This topic is extensive enough to warrant its own blog post, so please look for it next week.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful. I invite you to accept those that resonate with you, and leave the rest.
Fur Ball Fever:
Universal Amazon URL (all countries): http://amzn.to/150fiHb
The Jaguar Legacy:
Universal Amazon URL (all countries): http://amzn.to/13PIvaQ
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you have an amazing week of writing and reading.