Are you a beginning fiction writer? Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had several requests for “fiction writing tips”. My most important tip: learn how scenes work in your fiction. Knowing how scenes work will make all the difference to your fiction.
You may be wondering… what’s a scene? Basically, a scene is a unit of action. I went into detail on how to write scenes in this blog post, Write Hot Scenes For Bestselling Fiction: 5 Magical Tips. Read the article: scenes are the building blocks of fiction, and the better your scenes, the better your fiction.
Writing tips to make sense of scenes
In Writing Fiction: Think in Scenes For Easy Planning, Writing, and Revision I encouraged you to focus on emotions in writing fiction:
Emotions rule us — it’s the way we’re built. Emotion is the reason our stone age ancestors survived. If your stone age ancestor Freddie saw the smudge of large tiger-sized paw print in the dirt, he knew enough to run, or at least be wary. Because he survived, you were born.
To write great stories, you need to get on familiar terms with your own emotions, the emotions of those around you, and of course — your characters’ emotions. The more you can do that, the more your writing will improve.
If you remember to show EMOTIONS, it will help you to write great scenes.
Important: please don’t label an emotion, and call it done. When you write: “he was angry”, that’s not showing emotion. Let your readers see his face reddening, or paling. Describe the way he puffs himself up like a bullfrog, and throws plates across the room.
Show emotions, always.
Watch people around you, and yourself. How do people act when they’re angry, or scared, or bored? What thoughts go through your head when you’re angry, or sad?
Now let’s look at some writing tips which will help you to write powerful scenes.
1. Give readers the emotional charge they want (what’s the genre?)
If you’re a movie fan, you know that movies made from novels are usually much less satisfying than the novels themselves. Why? One reason: a novel reveals characters’ emotions, via their thoughts, and we experience what the character experiences.
Let’s say you’re writing a short story, which consists of five scenes.
In the first scene, the one that sets up your story, one of your female characters, Tiffany, is shown to be a chatterbox, and this has consequences. She shares a bit of gossip about her love life with another character. Someone overhears — Pamela, the wife of the man with whom Tiffany is having an affair.
You’re telling the story from the point of view of Pamela. What does Pamela feel, and how do you reveal what she feels? Your aim is to get readers to feel Pamela’s emotions — to experience them — via Pamela’s thoughts and actions. When you explore your characters’ emotions: you feel them, and you show them, readers will feel the emotions too.
Genre is a big clue to the emotions you develop in a short story, or a novel. In a romance, readers want the passion of love, in a mystery, readers want to be challenged to solve a puzzle.
Get clear on the emotional charge readers want from the genre in which you’re writing.
2. Bored? Delete the scene OR look for the emotion
You’ve finished writing your novel.
Read it, without making notes, or editing.
Look for scenes in which the story drags. You can recognize these scenes, because you skip paragraphs and your mind wanders; you’re bored.
Either delete those scenes, or rewrite them.
When you’re rewriting, focus on what the characters in a scene are feeling, and show those emotions.
3. Enter on ACTION: exit with the scene’s sequel
A scene is a unit of action. Your point of view character in the scene has a goal, and goes after it. In the scene, something happens.
The scene is followed by the scene’s sequel. A scene’s sequel is essentially just the character’s recognition that something has changed — more on that in a moment.
Since a scene is a unit of action, make the action, action — make it physical.
Let’s say you have a scene in which a character drives from one location to another. Nothing much happens. Your character is thinking about — whatever.
Kick the scene along. Make something happen. Sticking with our Tiffany/ Pamela story. Pamela’s driving home from work — that’s her goal in the scene, to get home. She’s thinking about her situation. Will she confront her husband?
You need to make something happen. So Pamela sees Tiffany’s car, and she follows it.
To repeat: in every scene you write, something happens.
4. What changes? Every scene must change something, or it’s not a scene
To write effective scenes:
- Focus on the emotion;
- Make something happen;
- Ensure that something changes — and that something must be related to the point of your story;
- Your character reflects on the change in the scene’s followup: the sequel.
In our Tiffany/ Pamela story, something happened. Pamela saw Tiffany’s car, and followed it. Did the scene change Pamela?
That depends on the way you handle the scene. So handle it so that something changes. At the beginning of the scene, Pamela was a certain kind of person. At the end of the scene, she’s changed: she’s the kind of person who follows her husband’s mistress’s car.
Pamela recognizes that she’s changed in the scene sequel.
Tip: don’t stop the scene for the sequel. In our Tiffany/ Pamela scene, the sequel happens while Pamela’s following Tiffany.
5. Look for ways to jazz up your scenes with secrets, subtext, and humor
When you write your scene, initially you just want to write it. You need to get all the elements down. When you’ve finished your novel, or short story, you can rewrite your scenes, to make them more powerful.
There are endless ways to make scenes more powerful. You can reveal characters’ secrets, charge your dialogue with subtext, and look for ways in which to add humor.
Secrets are easy. Just give each of your main characters a secret.
“Subtext” is the real meaning behind a character’s words. On the surface your characters may be having a conversation. Their conversations’ subtext might be something very different from the surface meaning of their words. Writing subtext can be challenging, so if you’re a new writer, don’t strive for it. Let it happen naturally.
All fiction benefits from a little comic relief.
You don’t need slapstick humor. Create a pet dog, cat or hamster for humor, and to make your characters more likable.
So there you have it; five writing tips to help you to write more powerful scenes. When you use these tips, not only will readers avidly read your fiction — you’ll enjoy writing fiction too. Have fun. 🙂