Writing Tips – Crafting Sound Scenes

(Originally published Dec. 17, 2008)

  •  A 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.
  • 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.
  • No Talking Heads: Have your characters engaged in some sort of activity. Do not repeat that activity in the book (e.g. eating a meal). Try to think of an unusual activity for your characters to engage in (e.g. opening scene of Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, where the heroine is stomping down a highway dressed in a beaver suit).
  • Populating a Scene: Too much thinking and ruminating gets old very quickly. Try to populate each scene (especially Action Scenes and even Reaction Scenes) with both a protagonist and an antagonist.
  • There is no such Thing as Coincidence: A coincidence is, “A remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection”. 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.
  • POV within a Scene: When we become as skilled at our craft as Nora Roberts, head-hopping is permissible. A wise novice writer, however, should stick to a single POV within a scene. I grant myself an exception to this “rule” in 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).