If you want to write hot-selling fiction you need to know how to write scenes. Here’s why. Your readers have dozens of entertainment options. They can play video games, stream Netflix, or read someone else’s book.
You must give readers a reason for reading your novels: powerful entertainment that they can’t get elsewhere. Bestselling novels contain dozens of scenes which grab readers and won’t let them go; that’s why they’re bestsellers. Writing those scenes is a skill, and it’s one you can develop — indeed, it’s one you must develop.
Write scenes to hook readers with powerful elements
Over the past couple of years, I’ve received hundreds of questions about fiction from authors. Surprisingly enough, few of those questions concerned scenes, because few fiction authors (new or established) pay in sufficient attention to scenes.
When you do start paying attention, you’ll know that scenes turbo-charge your fiction. Write great scenes, and you’ll write excellent novels, novellas, and short stories of which you’re proud, and which readers love.
Here are the elements which create powerful scenes:
- Interesting characters your readers can love, or love to hate;
- Action which pulls readers into your fiction, so that they feel as if your story is happening to them;
- Conflict: trouble, trouble everywhere, so that readers desperately want to know what happens next;
- “You’re there” settings, with sensory delights: vision, hearing, scents, and touch;
- A dash of plot: each and every scene carries your plot forward; and
- (usually) Dialogue which packs a lot of meaning and emotion into few words.
Every scene takes place NOW, in real time
You’ve heard about showing and telling, and may have been told that you need to show, rather than tell. “Showing” means writing in scenes.
But what’s a scene? Essentially, a scene is just a unit of action. In this article, Write Hot Scenes For Bestselling Fiction: 5 Magical Tips, I suggested:
Bestselling authors are masters of their scenes. Their prose may be less than elegant, but it delivers an emotional punch. It’s always amusing when unsuccessful writers sneer at bestselling authors, whining that a certain bestselling author “can’t write” and doesn’t “deserve” success. This is nonsense.
As I’ve said many times: let go of the words in your fiction. Focus on FEELING.
If you focus on emotions, literary snobs may sneer, but you can laugh all the way to the proverbial bank. Emotion is delivered in scenes: the action’s happening now, and readers are engaged.
Read that article for some good advice on writing brilliant scenes — you’ll discover how to show.
If you’re not showing, you’re telling — minimize the telling 🙂
Think of your fiction as a string of beads, with tiny golden spacers between each bead. Each bead is a scene. The spacer bead is narration — telling.
Here’s a snippet of a scene from Sting, a bestselling novel from Sandra Browne:
’She reached beneath his shirttail and wrestled the pistol from the holster. He needed his hands to support himself, so he let her take the gun without a fight. Shakily holding it between her hands, she aimed it at him. “Don’t move or I’ll shoot you, too.”’
The scene is happening now.
On the other hand, here’s narration, from The Sudden Departure of the Frasers by Louise Candlish (a brilliant novel, BTW, which provides you with a masterclass in making a nasty heroine likable):
’It crossed my mind that he might be having an affair with her – it was of just this younger-co-worker cliché that Liz’s marriage had fallen foul – perhaps using the event as some sort of perverted game (it took one to know one).’
Ideally, most of your fiction (novels, short stories) will be showing, that is, you’ll write in scenes, because you must compete with other entertainment.
Your fiction MUST compete with other entertainment, so focus on SHOWING (scenes)
Many years ago, when I first started writing fiction seriously, I fell in awe of a particular bestselling author. I adored her first book, and couldn’t wait for the second one. Finally, I got my eager little hands on her new novel, and was horribly disappointed.
I said to a friend: “She hasn’t written a novel, she’s written an outline.”
Her entire novel was narration… I was disappointed, and her other fans were too. That novel vanished, while the first, bestselling novel (which was written in scenes), is still selling all these years later.
At the time, I wasn’t aware of the importance of scenes, but I knew that the novel was entirely narration. Admittedly, in those days, many novels did emphasize “telling” — that is, narration.
Today however, if you try to write scene-free fiction, readers will not forgive you. They can entertain themselves in many ways: if you want your fiction to entertain them, you’d better write in scenes. 🙂
Action tip: grab your current Work in Progress (WIP), and identify your scenes
The better the fiction, the harder it is to identify scenes, because you’re pulled into each scene — you’re living it. 🙂
When you’re writing however, you need to know exactly what you’re writing, whether it’s scene, or narration.
Here’s a graphic showing you the number of scenes in various forms of fiction.
If your current WIP doesn’t have ample scenes (more scenes than narration), fix it. Write in scenes: live your fiction, and readers will live it too… When you write scenes, you’ll hook readers.
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