Smooth Out Your Novel’s Scene Writing

Mama Mia! Sez

A lot of my readers know I encourage scene writing as the best tool for completing a novel draft. So you dash off a scene, that’s great. But what can you do on revisions to smooth the action and capture the essence of conflict, emotions and dialogue?
Writing Tip for Today: When you revise your scenes, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Be Consistent. Readers are going to be confused if your protagonist starts off the scene wearing flats ands winds up in heels without ever changing her shoes. Be sure that you match the character’s apparel, mood and motivation to the story. For instance, if your heroine’s son has disappeared (as in my own WIP), don’t allow your protag to laugh and be merry. Those emotions are going to sound phony to any parent, who understands that a missing child is going to remain at the forefront of that parent’s mind. Keep your character’s biggest goal and story problem somehow illuminated no matter what the scene is about.
  • Replace Said with Action Beats. Some writers feel you ought never use a dialogue attribution again, but rather replace them all with action beats. An Action Beat is a sentence before or after a line(s) of dialogue which tell the reader something beyond just who says what. This could be a bit of interior thought, an action or emotion on the part of the speaker. While these beats do give readers much more than an ID, I’m more moderate about this–you can only do so much gazing, clearing of throat or shifting of weight during a conversation. A “said” now and then isn’t going to make your reader close the book.
  • Make Sure It’s Win, Lose or Draw. Every scene–repeat–every scene MUST end with your POV character either winning the scene by getting what she wants, losing by being thwarted or ending in a draw or tie–not a good idea. Novels are like nesting dolls: chapters are microcosms of the whole book and scenes are small versions of the chapter. Scenes should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Good luck with your revisions!

What is the hardest thing to accomplish in a scene? I’d love to hear from you!

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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