Instructionals, Pt. 7: How to Build a Scene

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I came across an amazing blog post by Laura Cron this week, and she included several gold nuggets about writing good scenes, and avoiding bad scenes. She was making sure every writer has fulfilled their original intentions for their piece of writing– Making sure that everything in the author’s head is really communicated through the text.

She mentioned a few strategies to help perfect your scenes, and to improve the reader’s understanding of the emotion and motivation behind it, as well as to continue moving the action forward and giving a rich context. I went ahead and expanded on her ideas, and wrote my own cheat-sheet for writing good scenes.

My Cheat Sheet

Get Through the Scene

When you first begin to write a scene, focus on getting to the end of it. Don’t worry about details or descriptions. Don’t fuss over anything. Make a point to only include the most crucial information– focus on the outcome. You might find it helpful to write the answers to these questions before beginning to write the scene:

  • What is the purpose of this scene within the context of the book?
  • What needs to change or occur in the scene?
  • What information does the reader need to take away from the scene?

Make sure to exclude anything that distracts from these main points.

Add Background Information

Read your scene again, and evaluate the answers to this new set of questions. When you have these answers, write them into the scene where they fit. Again, don’t fuss about the flow, or how your words sound yet– place your priority on putting these answers into the scene.

  • Why is the character doing/saying this?
  • What does the character want in this scene? Why?
  • What does the character expect to get out of the scene?
  • Where’s the risk involved?
  • How does the character perceive what’s going on?
  • How does internal reaction affect external response?

Be sure that your reader can answer these questions, not just you! If they are answered through other scenes in other parts of the piece, that’s okay– but make your reader aware of the psychology behind your character’s reactions, and behind the scene. Even if the writer knows what’s going on, the reader might not be!

Now For The Fun Stuff!

Now that you have (an extremely dry) scene that functions in the story, and is informative to your readers, you can add extras. This is the part where you can add flavor and fun, metaphor and details, descriptions and personality. This is where the art comes in.
This is where you can go from telling to showing, which is a topic I hope to expand on in later posts!
Use this list to evaluate more options for where you can expand the scene. You can utilize these elements to make the points above more full, exciting, and rich.
  • Dialogue
  • Descriptions
  • Internal Thoughts
  • Body Language
  • Time & Space (Context)

The Second Opinion

Before you label a scene “complete,” be sure to get a second opinion! The point of following these steps is to be sure that the reader is well-informed on what’s going on inside and behind the scene. Find a friend or writing buddy, and have them answer some of the questions above! If they can’t answer them after reading your scenes, your scene is lacking deep background information. A comment on Laura Cron’s blog post said,

“Writing is communication, dressed up with a few things for aesthetics and entertainment.” – T.K. Marnell

 Disclaimer

Obviously, there are plenty of other ways to write scenes, and include all the information above! This is my personal reference sheet for putting in the blocks of my scene, and making sure everything is clear, and communicates my story well. This is not “the only” way to write a scene– it’s just my way. Feel free to take this and adapt it to fit your workflow! Change the order, perhaps, if you feel the need the visualize the scene first. Or, add some of your own points that you think your story-writing might lack. Find what fits for you, and use it to enrich your scenes.

Next Article – The Mechanics of Writing

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