Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ask O: What's a Scene Anyway? Part One

I was dizzy and confused. As a copy editor for many years, I read boatloads of books in which not a scene could be found. Instead, one event led to another without a beginning, middle, or end and without a clear climax or resolution. I longed for the satisfying pacing of a focused episode. I knew breaking the manuscript into scenes would bring clarifying freshness to clear up my dazed confusion.

My friend, Tricia Goyer, once told me that after she started writing in scenes, the contracts rolled in! So a well-crafted manuscript consisting of enthralling scenes can make a huge difference in an author’s success.

So how do we do it?

First, ask, “How will this work into a scene?” Recently I was trying to think of a way to make my character's life a little (a lot!) more complicated. An idea popped up: What if a new person arrives, with lots of problems, who needs my heroine’s help? (Mwah ha hah ha! She’ll be so overwhelmed but won’t be able to say no.) Soon a whole scene played out in my mind—from the time the new character knocked on the door, to the stress and frustration she brought, to the resolution.

Whenever possible, I insert new ideas of plot points, characters, or bits of research smack into a scene. Not only does this help create chunks of storyline, it saves time. If something won’t fit into a scene, I stop pursuing it.

Second, think chronologically. I’ve noticed through homeschooling my kids that many writing curriculum focus on the six questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. These are great—to a point. I obviously need these elements in my scenes, but they can be restricting. While keeping the answers to the five “w”s and an “h” in mind, I ask, “What happens first? Then what happens? Then what happens?” and so on. This transforms the bits of information into something readers will lose themselves in.

Whether you're an old pro at writing scenes or this is the first time you've heard of such a crazy idea, these two tips should give you an easy jump-start to keeping your readers from being dizzy and confused like I was.

Tune in next week for part two.

And don't forget to leave your questions for me in the comments or at I'd love to answer them!

Happy writing,


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