First Aid for Scenes

Advanced Novel Writing Workshop from Writer’s Online Workshops

Any work of art is made up of smaller parts—just as a novel, story, or script is made up of scenes.  But what’s interesting about any completed work of art is that the final product is greater than the sum of its smaller parts. In this way the work is like a family, community, or country.  A scene is like a single member of a family—it is loved for its own individuality—but its greatest power is its contribution to the larger group.

Therefore, when writing a scene, first you must concentrate only on the elements that make that scene work on its own as an isolated mini-story. But eventually you must judge each individual scene’s effectiveness according to how much it contributes to the work as a whole.

Can’t decide whether or not the scene you’ve just written belongs in your story? A scene should do two or more of these four things:

1) advance the plot

2) develop the character(s)

3) illustrate the theme

4) contribute to suspense (which in turn advances the plot).

Read the scene again and when you’re finished complete the following sentences:

1. The Plot Focus:

The purpose of this scene is to ______________________________________.

(Example: The purpose of this scene is to reveal the protagonist’s childhood abuses in order to provide motivation for her current actions.)

2. The Character Focus:

When the reader finishes this scene, she should feel ______________________________________.

(Example: When the reader finishes this scene, she should feel sympathy for the protagonist, yet be skeptical of her reliability as a narrator.)

3. The Theme Focus:

When the reader finishes this scene, he should think ______________________________________.

(Example: When the reader finishes this scene, he should think that the protagonist has been using these abuses as an excuse for many other self-destructive actions.)

4. The Suspense Focus:

When the reader finishes this scene, she should wonder ______________________________________.

(Example: When the reader finishes this scene, she should wonder whether or not the protagonist will be able to overcome the horror of her childhood in order to reunite with her estranged mother.)

A good scene should do at least double duty, so if you can’t complete at least two of these sentences to your satisfaction, the scene either needs more work or needs to be cut.

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