Something’s wrong with your novel, but what? A break from writing could help, so you browse Facebook and the web for fiction tips.
No joy. Next, you check your plotting essentials:
- Characters and conflict? (Yes)
- Setting? (Yes)
- Story question? (Yes)
In frustration you send a chapter to a beta reader, who assures you that the chapter reads well. He’s concerned about a few sentences and advises you to use active rather than passive voice. Unfortunately, the minor edits don’t help.
Whenever a student asks for my help because something’s not right, I ask him to count his scenes.
Here’s why: scenes are your fiction’s building blocks.
Essential fiction tips: show, don’t tell
Every author’s heard the writing tip: “show, don’t tell.”
Here’s what that means to authors: write in scenes:
When I’m working with my writing students who are frustrated because their novels aren’t selling, I encourage them to focus on their SCENES. Invariably, if you can write powerful scenes, you’ll write a powerful novel.
Let’s look at some fiction tips which will help you to SHOW.
1. Before you start writing, inspire yourself by imagining one scene
Bestselling authors write in scenes.
P.G. Wodehouse, my favorite author, wrote 96 books. He had a wonderful trick for developing his bestsellers: he started with ONE scene. He imagined the scene, and his characters and plot took shape from it.
That one scene could be a minor incident in the resulting novel, but for Wodehouse it was the seed around which everything else grew.
So, if you’re concerned that something in your fiction “isn’t right” — count your scenes. This “how many scenes in…” article may help.
2. Fence off your scenes: a scene is a moment in time
Your novel consists of scenes and narrative. When you have too much narrative (“telling”) you’ll lose readers. More importantly, before that happens, you’ll lose interest in your novel. (Or short story.) Endless narrative is boring.
A scene is showing, and it takes place in real time for the characters, so ask yourself:
- Who’s in this scene?
- What’s the conflict… What are they fighting about?
- Where does the scene take place?
- What’s each character’s mood? What are they feeling? Thinking? What can your Point of View character see, hear, touch?
- What’s YOUR goal for the scene?
- How long’s the scene? Scenes take place in real time for your characters.
2. Imagine and plot your BIG scenes before you start writing (if you can)
Plotting is daydreaming: imagining. Even if you’re a pantser by nature as I am, it’s vital that you imagine at least ONE scene before you start writing.
Try Wodehouse’s trick of imagining one scene. Then you can work backwards from that scene to what happened earlier, or ask yourself that timeless question: what happens next?
As you can see from the graphic below, a novel can have 60 scenes. In practice your novel’s more likely to have around 40 to 45 scenes, because you’ll need words for narration (“telling”) as well.
When I’m beginning a novel I estimate 40 scenes. Of those scenes, the scenes at the milestones will be your BIG scenes:
Failure to hit milestones is the reason that authors get stuck, and can’t finish a novel. They know that something has gone badly wrong, but they have no idea what it is or how to fix it.
In summary, when you feel that something’s wrong with your novel, check your scenes. Focusing on your scenes makes writing fun, and you’ll write better fiction as well.
All authors do; no one sets out to write a boring novel.
Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters.More info →
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →