Scene Writing Tune-up

When you write an effective scene, you have a lot of plates spinning at once. Here’s a scene tune-up to help you keep it all together.

Writing Tip for Today: Here are a few tips for better scene writing:

Keep it Active

The number one mistake I see in student fiction work is a lack of action and tension, especially in the opening. Many times writers put their hero on stage and then proceed to give all sorts of background (back story!) info. If your character stays on stage alone for long, you end up with that person’s soliloquy.

We’ve talked recently about the Wilson Principle—where someone or something interacts with the character. Putting another character on stage helps you not only define the goal but adds a layer of action and tension. If the characters oppose one another, you have a better chance of building the tension and action.

Create tension through action—that is, don’t rely entirely on the dialogue. Instead of a talking heads scene where characters sit at a table or are just standing there, try setting the scene in terms of an activity. In other words, get them moving.

Create Worthy Obstacles

Another problem with scenes can be that you’re just too darn nice to your character. In other words, if the scene doesn’t present worthy obstacles for your character to struggle against, the scene may fall flat. You may have heard the admonition to “hold your character’s feet to the flame.” Great advice.

You can keep from making things too easy by inserting tension with false starts, misunderstandings, temptations or interference from outside forces (such as weather or nature). Remember, at the opening, your character needs to want something and the opposing characters must make it worthwhile.

Don’t shy away from conflict. Many writers just want everyone to get along, and it feels uncomfortable to write friction into a scene. Yet this friction is exactly what readers want to see. Goals attained too easily evoke the “So What?” from readers. It’s your job to answer that question with a weighty response.

Goals attained too easily evoke the “So What?” from readers.

Step toward Goal

By making your characters work for their relationships, you can show more effectively the contrast in values between your protagonist and the opposition. Give these opposite factions different values and let those values reinforce what your character really wants (goal).

Let the character work toward the goal actively in every scene, even if it’s subtle. You can do this by showing the ups and downs in a relationship, by not allowing them to avoid facing conflict and by illustrating why the character is motivated to pursue that goal in the face of overwhelming odds.

Above all, be sure each scene you write ends in a different place than where it began. If a scene “marches in place,” you risk losing your readers. Remember one purpose of every scene must be that your character wins or loses ground toward the goal. A draw or tie just makes readers close the book.

Do your scenes need a tune-up? Try these tips and let me know how they work for you.

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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