Monday, April 4, 2011

Troubleshooting scenes

Stuck on a scene? Not sure quite what is wrong with it? Take a look at the following questions to see if they can help you identify the issue.

  • What is the purpose of your scene?  Each of your scenes should move the story forward by delivering one piece of story information (exposition).
  • What is the most important piece of exposition you wish to deliver?  Try sticking to one piece of information only and build your scene around that.
  • How does that exposition move your story forwards?
  • If required, have you set up this scene, or foreshadowed it, in an earlier scene?
  • Precisely when will you deliver this exposition, and how?  In action, dialogue, or narrative?
  • How late can you enter the scene without losing the reader?  We don't always need to see our hero drive to the docks for the showdown with the antagonist but we can see him arrive there for the action to begin.
  • Does your scene have a beginning, middle and end, like a short story?  Try giving each scene its own structure, conflict, and flow.
  • Think about what you want your reader to experince during the scene - understanding or feeling?
  • Are you creating anticipation before the exposition is delivered, or are you delivering the exposition as a surprise?  If it's a surprise, how have you set this up, or tricked the reader, so the delivery is a shock?
  • What about the character vs. the exposition?  Is the scene illustrating character by showing them react to the exposition or are you using the exposition to tell your reader about the character?
  • How lean is your scene?  Does it drive towards the delivery of the exposition or stall for time?
  • How relevant is the scene to the overall story?
  • Do you end your scene with a line that propels the reader into the next scene?
  • How many scenes do you have per chapter?  Many modern novels have just one scene per chapter - and therefore lots of chapters! If you have more than one scene per chapter, either break between them with a line of white space or insert a smooth transitional sentence.
  • How strong is your scene opening?  Have you avoided anything redundant?
What else do you consider when you're building a scene?

1 comment:

  1. This is really useful, Stu - it's so easy to get caught up in the writing and lose the structure in the process. What makes sense to the writer doesn't necessarily make a good, flowing, comprehensible and satisfying text for the reader. Such a lot of things to get right!