Know When to Act Out (A Scene!)

Last post we discussed where, in a novel, the briefest of summaries or even completely omitting activities is wise. To recap, summarize or omit activities with no bearing on the story or the goal.

Writing Tip for Today: Knowing when to summarize helps keep readers’ attention focused on the important stuff. Here are some ways to identify and act out “important stuff:”

Major Plot Complications.

You identify your character’s goal near the beginning of the story. In most good novels, this character is often thwarted as she tries to get closer to winning that goal. Whenever the character encounters a major complication or set-back, the reader wants to see how it plays out. Get your character out of soliloquy and onstage with an opposing character, and soon you’ll have a scene as these two go head to head. An opposing character doesn’t need to be a “bad guy.” It could be the character’s best friend, spouse or simply anyone with an agenda contrary to the character’s goals. Readers are trying to follow the story you have promised them: Character wants X, faces ABC obstacles (complications) and in the end wins, loses the goal. It makes sense to act out (with a scene) major developments along the way.

Emotional Complications.

Readers are also interested in the main character’s emotional growth. Show don’t tell, right? It isn’t as easy as saying “she got angry.” Show emotional developments such as longing, disappointment or frustration by showing the physical changes he feels (setting one’s jaw, balling fists, crying); by internal thought (He’d never again see his beloved) or by spoken dialogue (You’re no good!). Readers want to follow the emotions of your character as much or more than the action.

At the Story Climax.

Your novel needs a major climax where your character ACTS to either defeat or lose the main story problem. Writing scenes for a climax may seem intuitive, but you’d be surprised how many writers rush through important scenes. Readers must believe the changes of feeling, thought and action that the character goes through to reach a conclusion. If your character suddenly has a change of heart without the preparation of how the character comes to that conclusion, it will feel forced or contrived. Your main character must solve her own problem so that readers are satisfied with the story outcome. SHOWING through scene writing is the ideal tool to make this satisfaction happen.

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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