Back in the Scene Writing Chair

Hi everyone! Thanks for your patience while I helped out as care giver. Now, as August slips out the door, I’m back and thinking about good scene writing.

Writing Tip for Today: Let’s take a look at some common scene problems:

Once Isn’t Enough

A common scene problem I see is repetition. Repeating either the purpose or the content of your scene can leave readers scratching their heads. As I’ve said a million times, you are your story’s manager. You direct your readers to pay attention or remember a detail, to gloss over unimportant bits or to zoom in for the close-up.

Without good management, it can be tempting to repeat a scene’s setting. I’ve seen novels where every chapter opens with a woman gazing out her kitchen window. Incredibly one student’s story had the protagonist waking up in every chapter, going about the morning routine. Even if you write these repetitive scenes in a draft, on revision change it up.

In real life we spend a lot of time talking around a table. But in fiction, your story is at a disadvantage if you set too many scenes in a kitchen, restaurant or bar. Readers see the characters from the waist-up and the scene will rely on dialogue alone. Get your characters moving and portray the story scenes in ways that don’t keep repeating.

Get Your Characters Moving!

Fade to Nothing

I once had a wonderful writer-student whose scenes always seemed to end with the scene unresolved, yet no hint of who won or lost. In life, we often walk away from conflict, but in fiction you must always keep your character’s feet to the flame.

If you tend to rescue your protagonist, rethink the purpose of your scene. Remember, conflict/tension doesn’t need to be overt. In fact, the best tension often comes out in subtle ways. If you allow your protagonist to dodge conflict, your scene’s tension will sag.

And if you write about younger people, resist the urge to let the adults save the day—even if that’s what really would happen. Any outside force that swoops in and solves problems for the protagonist (known as deus ex machina) is ill-advised. How can readers root for your character if he/she can’t solve her own problems?

Passing Go

In fiction, a scene must always lead to the next scene. Resist the temptation to tie up with a bow any scene other than the resolution—and even then, I like a bit of mystery or suggestion rather than, “And they lived happily ever after.”

Remember our discussion of scene and sequel? Action leads to Reaction, which leads to Dilemma, which leads to Decision and back to Action. Your scenes should reflect this pattern as well. Building scenes, know each scene’s purpose. Why this scene?

The answer should move your character around the game board, even if she/he loses. The outcome of a loss may mean the character tries a different or more difficult attack in the next scene. Unfortunately, unless you are able to maintain the tension, a scene “To give readers a breather” will almost certainly mean readers head for the exits. Every scene you write should invest readers more deeply and fully. For inspiration, watch some popular movies. Examine how the scenes vary, how they always lead to the next hurdle and how they rarely march in place.

What are your tips for writing effective scenes?

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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