Updated: Mar 19, 2018
Writing a scene seems straightforward enough, but I want to journey past the basics and into a few other areas of scene that have been on my mind.
The Basics of Scene:
The goals of scenes are to elicit emotion and move your story forward.
Just like your book has GMC (Goal, Motivation & Conflict) , your scenes have GCD.
Structure of Scenes:
Goal->Character wants something
Conflict ->2 characters with incompatible goals
Disaster->hook, unexpected development
In many inspirational and sweet romance novels the conflict and disaster are what is called "low tension." The conflict provides enough worry factor to satisfy the reader, but
generally does not involve world peace. The disaster at the end of the scene can be as simple an internal monologue of worry or "what am I going to do now?" Or it can be a real "gasp" hook as in suspense or action novels. Varying your disaster in each scene provides more interest for your reader so they don't predict what's next.
And remember that disaster is why you do not end your scenes with going to bed. The reason we end with disaster is so the story advances, the tension increases and the reader keeps turning the pages.
Additionally, every scene asks a question: Take the scene goal and turn it into a question. Will xx get xx? The character should always be in worse shape at the end of the scene than at the start.
An example of scene GCD:
Goal: Daisy wants the land that borders the river and plans to purchase it today after selling her cows at market. (The scene question is, will Daisy get the land?)
Conflict: She goes to the claim office and discovers the price on the land has gone up.
Disaster: Not only that, but Cade (her mortal enemy) tells her he intends to buy it and the only way she can have that land is to marry him. Cheesy, but you get my point.
And here are some real disaster scene endings from books on my shelf- notice the variety of different types of tension in the disaster endings.
The fire engine’s horn sounded before the vehicle pulled away from the curb.Maggie shook her head, willing herself out of the daze that had wrapped itself around her.
“I’m simply going to have to stay out of his way,” she murmured. “Because Jake MacLaughlin is an exceptionally dangerous man.”
Safe in the Fireman's Arms-Tina Radcliffe
The doctor looked up from her crouched position. "Less than ten years, and these markings on the rib cage-" she pointed at the tiny lines "-are lacerations made by a knifelike instrument. It would appear a crime has occurred on your island, Sheriff Grant. And my assessment says it's murder."
Grave Danger-Katy Lee
Reel wondered if Robie was still coming after her. She wondered if right now he regretted not killing her.
Her phone buzzed. She looked down at the screen.
Will Robie had just answered her.
The Hit- David Baldacci
If ham and cheese on rye with the hero is your only scene goal, the conflict better be that the waitress hates your heroine and wants the hero and the disaster is she poisoned your heroine.
Resources for further research on Scene:
Techniques of the Selling Writer –Dwight V. Swain
Scene & Structure-Jack M. Bickham
Writing the Perfect Scene –Randy Ingermanson
And just for fun here is Joanna Penn from the Creative Penn talking about how she writes scenes.
I've laid the foundation. Now let's talk about a common practice I see with newer writers. If you think I'm talking about you, you're right and wrong. We've all been there and done that. and have the shirt.
Writing Around the Scene
Writing around the scene usually occurs when your hero and heroine are about to share the stage in a monumental way. The writer leads you up to the scene nicely and then stops right on the edge of the precipice.
The next thing on the page is either hours later, the next day, or worse, reflection by one of the characters on the scene that we never saw (this reflection is called sequel btw).
Don't do that. Why? Because you are cheating your reader and subconsciously making them very cranky. Allow me to explain.
Scenes are live.
Everything you say happens in a scene must play out in real time. TIME IS REAL IN EACH SCENE. -Michael Hauge
Yes, we all use techniques to show the passage of time, however that is used to avoid the stuff readers skip over, like sleeping, showering, using the loo.
BUT passage of time techniques must never, ever cheat your reader.
Every scene is not only going to provide GCD (Goal, Conflict, Disaster) and advance your story, but it also is an opportunity to endear your reader to your protagonist. To get them into the skin of our character. To make them root for your hero/heroine. Make them care. It's also an opportunity to elicit emotion.
When you make your readers part of the journey then they think about your characters long after they close the book.
Now on to more sticky scene stuff....
A while back my amazing writer friend, Mary Connealy mentioned the fear that writers have as they sit, hands poised over the keyboard ready to tackle a difficult scene. Let's address that because again, it's another writerly phenomena we all experience.
Fear of Writing the Scene
We are neurotic writers who talk to people in our heads, and our fears include:
Fear of the audience
Fear of the editor
Fear of ourselves
Fear of the art
This begins with some basic neurosis as you self-talk.
What if I can’t get what’s in my head onto the paper?
Who am I to tell this story?
What if I fail?
What if it’s misinterpreted?
What if they don’t hear it, taste it, feel it as I do?
What if I freeze in the clutch?
What if they find out I'm a fraud?
What if my editor hates it?
What if I get one-star reviews?
The first step toward writing past your fear is to IGNORE YOUR HEAD. (AND STOP READING REVIEWS -You know who you are and yes, I am talking to you!)
You are not alone in your fears, so just go ahead and write the scene.
The writer does not know what he knows. You must remain with a difficult scene for as long as it takes to dig deeply into yourself and discover more of what you know. You not only complete the scene, but add to your store of writing skill.
The "short breath" writer is facile and easily discouraged. When he exhausts what he knows, he rearranges and never learns anything new. He repeats and re-repeats. The "long breath" writer plunges deeply until he finds what he needs. He emerges from the depths of "self" with new material, new techniques. He learns from himself.
Dare to Be a Great Writer-Leonard Bishop
Now I leave you with a thought provoking technique to consider when you sit down to write your next scene:
Every scene has a "hot spot," the moment that the rest of the scene is built around. One way to determine the best length for a scene is to locate that moment and draw a box around
it. Then read backwards from there. Read the previous paragraph and ask yourself whether or not it (or all the sentences in it) contributes to that hot spot. Then repeat the paragraph before that and repeat the process. By alternating the traditional linear reading, you get a more objective perspective of each line and are able to cut those that interfere.
Novelists Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes-Ray Obstfeld.