In scene writing, certain aspects must be set to keep readers engaged and oriented. When I think over a scene I’ve written, I often list these necessary elements rather like a game of CLUE. I make sure the vital parts are there like Col. Mustard in the study with the pipe wrench.
Writing Tip for Today: It’s a silly acronym, but C.L.U.E. might help you remember the vital ingredients to every scene you write.
C and L
Every scene needs some basic stuff to help readers know when/where they are, who’s involved and why. At the scene’s opening, the where, when and who are most important. The why is hinted at too but may unfold a bit more slowly as the action progresses. Concrete Sensory Detail and the scene’s Lighting are great tools.
Use concrete sensory detail or CSD, to bring a scene to life, of course. Yet this same CSD also helps set up the scene. CSD gives readers the info they need to imagine the movie in the mind. Readers crave specific (concrete) details delivered via the senses. Employ the five senses—visual and auditory being the most common. Avoid overloading your reader by choosing CSD carefully. Save smell for important moments.
Light can be a great and simple way to open a scene. If it’s day or night, cloudy or sunny, harsh and fluorescent or gently soft, light can set up a scene and lend a mood or ambience to the setting. When we talk about setting becoming a character, many times the quality of the Light takes center stage. Orient your reader in your scene’s first sentence.
U and Your Character
“U” makes me bend over backwards to suggest the Underlying Reason for the scene. (Hey, the acronym has to work!) As mentioned above, your scene’s purpose—the why—can be hinted at when your scene opens, to blossom as the action progresses. Underlying Reason will also be tethered to your POV character and the other character(s) in the scene. Every scene must contain this purpose or underlying reason.
Avoid writing scenes where your characters sit around and chat about nothing. Some writers defend this practice as “character introduction,” but unless the scene has the “U” it won’t move the story forward. If the story marches in place without advancing, most readers will stop reading.
As the story architect, you must include this underlying reason in every scene, even if the character has a setback. Advancing the story doesn’t always mean your character wins. In fact, by losing, your character is forced to try harder to achieve the goal. Trying harder or different ways to win is the grease that keeps readers engaged.
Include a scene’s Underlying Reason, even if the character loses.
E is for Emotion
In the game of Clue, the murderer, the place and the weapon must be discovered. In fiction, we also need to add in the motive. Motive is best portrayed by infusing authentic emotion into your scene. Fiction readers don’t usually read for info. They read to feel something. A scene without a healthy injection of emotion often falls flat.
Keep the camera close when portraying character emotions. Avoid relying too much upon physical signs such as clenched teeth or fists. Instead use your character’s inner thoughts (no italics!) to convey the real time reactions, dilemmas and decisions in each scene.
Protagonist emotions should reflect the other scenic elements. When you are sad or depressed, a rainy day is like a mirror. That same dreary day might feel completely different to a character who just won the lottery. Maybe it’s like buying a yellow car and then seeing yellow cars everywhere: whatever your mind is set on, you tend to notice around you. Emotions on the page give clues to readers about the character’s background, current attitudes and determination.