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STRUCTURING A SCENE

August 31, 2011

            The purpose of a scene is to move the story along. The scene is a small section of the big picture that gives the author the structure to form his or her story, organize it and play it out for the reader. The scene is where the reader discovers something about the plot.

            The story is nothing more than a collection of scenes. These scenes can be short snippets within chapters, or they can be the chapters themselves. It’s entirely up to the author. The key is that each scene must move the story along.

            The worst thing the author can do is waste a scene. There are many ways to waste a scene. Some examples are:

            The info dump: Authors like to take up scenes by dumping a lot of info on the reader. Maybe it’s the life story of one of the characters. Maybe it’s the background justification for why something happens the way it does in the story. Maybe it’s the complete history of the temple the main character is sneaking into. Ding ding ding ding! Wrong answer. This is a sure way to bore your reader to death and encourage them to skip sections. It does nothing to move the story along.

            The political rant: Sometimes authors like to go off on a tangent and halt the story for a political rant. Oftentimes these come near the end of the story right when things are picking up. This brings the story to a screeching halt while the reader has to slog through the author’s political views. Boring and often polarizing, alienating and downright annoying!

            The religious rant. See above.

            The sidetrack story. Here, the author throws in one of their pet interests that has nothing to do with the main plot. They just like to talk about the subject or want to plug it. Sorry, save it for another story where it fits.

            Each scene has to pertain to the plot of the story it is supposed to be about and it has to move the story along.

            A scene must have a beginning, a middle and an end. It also has to end with a bang so that the reader is compelled to go on to the next scene to find out what happens.

            If the scene ends resolved, why go on? What compels the reader to go on to the next chapter? You have to give it a cliffhanger with some pizzazz to compel the reader to find out what happens next. You don’t want the reader to lose interest with 100 pages left to go, do you? Sure, you can resolve things in a scene. However, you need to leave a paragraph or two past that resolution for the next cliffhanger. You need to do this for every scene right up until the last page. The exception might be where you use an epilogue.

            Every paragraph within the scene must be important enough to be there.

            With that being said, there are ways to fix some of those pesky problems I just mentioned. As for the info dump, if the information is that important, dole it out in small chunks. Disperse it amongst the action scenes. Let the characters tell it through dialogue, or show it through the exposition in short bursts spread out through different scenes. Don’t dump it all at once.

            As for the political and religious rants? There is no way to openly leak those views into the story without the readers catching on to them because, let’s face it, your views are going to leak through in the way you write. Don’t make it blatant. The way the characters act naturally through you is going to be enough for the readers to catch on anyway. If you start leaning too heavily one way or the other, you will alienate a lot of people. At least try to keep your personal views out of it. Keep things as neutral as possible and let the readers interpret things as they see fit.

            As for the sidetrack stories, if you really want to write about some pet interest, weave it into the story and make sure it is a key part and not some throwaway thread that is unnecessary. Trust me. An editor will have you cut the whole sub-plot if it isn’t. For example, if your story is about a serial killer and you want to talk about woodworking, you’d better make sure wood working tools are one of the killer’s weapons, or exotic wood strips are left behind as clues.

            Remember, each scene needs a beginning, a middle and an end. As I mentioned in a previous post, it should start in the POV of the character driving that scene and it should end in their POV. It should mean something and move the plot forward. Finally, it should end with a cliffhanger so that the reader is urged to read on to the next scene.

            If you include all of those elements and cut the bull, the reader won’t be able to put your book down.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Donald Riggio permalink
    August 31, 2011 2:01 pm

    As to “info dump.” ANY information that adds flavor, color, emotional impact…sets a scene…mood…tone, describes locale and yes, sometimes even weather, enhances a readers experience as he traverses the journey an author sets them upon. Writers should not fear words…they ARE after all the tools our our trade.

    Donald Riggio – Author: Seven-Inch Vinyl: A Rock and Roll Novel.

    • September 3, 2011 1:27 am

      Authors should not fear words Don, just too many of them at one time that do not move the story along, that is all. A long dirge of description is something most people tend to skip over to get to the good parts. In that case, the author needs to sprinkle it out in small doses so it is more palatable to the reader. There ARE some people that enjoy that sort of thing but more often than not, especially nowadays, readers have less time, or are more impatient, or just want to get to the point. Facing that dilemma, the author needs to tailor their prose to say what they want in such a way that they don’t alienate the reader. All the things you say can be done without an info dump. By info dump, I’m talking paragraphs versus sentences. I’m talking several long paragraphs versus a short paragraph. I’m talking a whole chapter versus leaking it out in narrative over several chapters or through dialogue.

      A great comment. I appreciate the feedback. Sorry I was so late responding. Started a new job this week.

  2. September 6, 2011 4:43 pm

    Another fine commentary on writing, Fred. I’m having the opposite problem with my latest WIP. Needs to be filled out a tad. I’ve never written a novel shorter than 100K words. As you know, Night Widow is a smidgeon under 70K. I’ve since written a short Epilogue and will add some background stuff in the last draft.

    Hey, how’s the new job? Email me when you get a chance and fill me in.

    • September 7, 2011 4:10 am

      Carol,

      Thanks for the kind comments! I loved editing Night Widow. It’s a great story. Glad you are adding an epilogue and fattening it up a bit. Can’t wait to see the latest edits.

      I sent you a private message too.

      Fred

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