A scene is a small increment of the story that progresses the story forward. A scene puts the characters in a new situation in which they are either pushed toward or pulled away from their objectives.
Have you planned a scene and not known where to start writing?
Ask yourself these ten questions to create a blueprint for your scene! (And we’re using Betty & Veronica as examples!)
Betty and Veronica arrive at the coffee shop to meet a woman with a dog for sale. Yet, seconds after they arrive, an armed intruder pushes them into the back room of the coffee shop.
Now, with your scene in mind, ask yourself these questions:
1. Who will be in the scene? List of characters that are absolutely necessary for this scene and no more.
2. What does each character do? Each character should have an objective in the scene. In our story, Betty is there to speak to a dog owner about buying a poodle. Veronica is there because she’d rather help Betty than go home to her deadbeat boyfriend.
3. What are the consequences if the character doesn’t do what they are supposed to? The more interesting the consequences, the better for this scene. Depressed Betty has wanted a dog for a long time, ever since Foo Foo died, so if this doesn’t work out, she’ll be sad. If Veronica can’t decide what to do about her bf, Harold, then she’ll have to pay his rent again.
4. What is the emotional temperature of each character? They need to be irritated, sleepy, hungry, impatient or exasperated. They need to be fearful or stressed or in love. Whatever their state, they have to be in tension. The purpose of the scene is to either increase their tension or decrease it. Betty is on the verge of tears, she misses her old dog so much. Veronica keeps rehashing all of Harold’s sins and gets angry.
5. What do you want the final outcome of the scene to be? For those that will end positively, come up with at least six things that can be done or said that can bring them to the end of the scene with hope. For those that will end negatively, come up with at least six things that can be done or said that will pull them farther away from their goal. This is where the main objectives of the story may change. Betty’s change may be that she decides a dog won’t solve her problems. Veronica is so angry with Harold, that she has no trouble standing up to the gunman.
6. What surprises are you giving your reader? Each scene’s purpose is to give the reader more information, to have them pulled one way or the other, to reveal more secrets, or to have them grow in empathy for your main characters. If your reader isn’t coming away with a “surprise” in one of these things, then the scene isn’t necessary. Cut it now not after you’ve been sculpting that 3000 word monster for a month. For example, surprise! The gunman IS HAROLD! This infuriates Veronica. She takes the gun from him and forces him to his knees.
7. What is the pacing of the scene? If there is a lot of action, then your sentences should be short and your verbs vibrant and active. If you want a slower, more descriptive or contemplative scene, then choose longer sentences. In the beginning, when Betty is missing her old dog and Veronica is just a bit miffed, the sentences could be longer and reflective, but as the gunman enters and forces everyone to the back room, the action kicks in gear. The sentences should be shorter. The dialogue is sharp and to the point. Betty whimpers. Veronica is enraged.
8.How does this scene play with the scenes around it? Scenes should alternate in action-packed and more passive. The emotionally gripping scenes should have a breather between them in which the main character (and the reader too) can stop and catch their breath. The scene before this one was when Betty finally got dressed and decided that a new pet would get her out of her funk. Or, the scene before this one was when Veronica had chewed out Harold for the millionth time. The scene after? Veronica is at the police station, giving a statement. Betty has snapped out of it, she’s the best attorney in the state!
9. How much attention do you need for the setting? Go easy on the description, unless it’s critical to the action. Keep it to only a handful of sensory descriptions. In my example, we don’t need a detailed description of the coffee shop. I’m limiting it to “hipster”,” reclaimed wood”, and “chalkboard menus”. With your setting description, keep it simple too.
10. What would happen if this scene got omitted? Unless the scene is critical to the next scene, don’t bother with it. Take a step back and looking at the entire book before deciding.
Answer these questions before you draft!
Scene creating is slippery, but perhaps with these questions, you can get a good handle on the creation of them for your novel.