During the race against the clock that is Novel in November, you don’t have the luxury of crafting the perfect, compelling opening line for your book, much less for each & every scene!
But opening lines are important, as our closing ones – not just the ones that make up your bookends, but the opening & closing of each scene in your story. It only takes one dull scene to lose a reader’s interest. So with that rather sobering thought in mind, here are some key things to think about as you revise your novel & brush up your scenes to make them as compelling & gripping for your reader as possible… not to mention full of variety whilst still coherent within your storyline… Easy, right? Heh…
First, let’s just take a second to consider the purpose of scenes, as we do, it might just be helpful to think of a favourite film & how each of its scenes progresses the story & the main characters along. Got your film? Great. Let’s think.
What are you trying to accomplish with your scenes?
Broadly speaking, each scene should do the following:
- propel the story forward through actions
- reveal something about your character through his/her reaction
- set up upcoming scenes
- Add a little something interesting to keep the reader intrigued
*Your story will likely involve both Action Scenes (dealing with a concrete objective, obstacles & an outcome) & Reaction Scenes (zoning in on your character’s emotions & decisions about his circumstances), or a combo of the two.
Ingredients of scenes that count
- Hook – Make sure there’s something on offer at the start of each scene that won’t let your reader put the book down.. something/somebody new? something unexpected? something just too interesting to look away from?
- Tension – Remember, a story’s bare bones are your character’s objective or desire and the obstacles & conflicts keeping her from attaining it. Not every scene’s tension will reach nail-biting levels, and sometimes the tension will be internal & underlying. Just don’t let the flame go out!
- Outcome or Decision – your scene needs some resolution to tell the reader we’re moving on, but the best way to ensure she moves along with you is to up the anti (leave your character in a worse tangle) right at the end of the scene
*Tips for building tension into your scenes
If you find your scenes getting off to slow starts, try fast-forwarding them right into the moment the main action kicks in. It might be your scenes getting swamped with long descriptions in the build up to the main objective. Cut to the chase! Summarise what’s happened to get your characters from A to B if necessary. (For example, at the end of scene A, my characters plan a secret rendezvous… much depends on their meeting. In scene B, we open with one character anxiously waiting for the other. I summarise her difficult journey getting to there, but we’re already in the thick of the action. The tension is high.)
So now you have the ingredients, it’s time to spice up your own scenes!
Take a look at one of your scenes with a critical eye and see if you can clearly spot (1) POV character, (2) her objective, (3) obstacle to that objective & (4) the outcome.
Go through your scenes one by one and play around with possible hooks. There’s more than one way to peel an apple here, so have fun experimenting! When you find one you like, keep it!
That’s just a start to the Craft behind scene shaping (because I’m still learning it!), but hopefully one that’ll get you moving right direction to making every scene count!