by C. Patrick Schulze
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Great! You’ve developed these wonderful characters who stand primed to flit about your magnificent setting and, boy-oh-boy, do you ever have an idea for a storyline. Well, it’s all for naught if you can’t compile these things into scenes and string those scenes together to make your story awe your readers.
Imagine, if you will, a lustrous string of pearls. The first gemstone compliments the next, which balances with the rest. Strung together they lay upon a woman’s neckline to bring forth her natural beauty and give her a radiating sense of elegance. Now imagine that necklace where the jewels are a hodgepodge of odd sizes, hues, luster and even quality. All of a sudden we’ve taken the best of nature and the best of man to make them into something less than pleasing. The same thing happens with your story if you don’t pay as much attention to your scenes as you did with your characters and setting.
Let’s get started.
To begin, you may wish to know some people recommend you consider what the characters want to happen, what they need. Personally, I disagree. I believe if you first determine where you want to go and what steps you must take to get there, your characters will follow.
It’s important to know an effective scene requires emotion, action, dialogue, characters, conflict and setting. Of course, it’s primary component is the conflict your characters face.
Next, determine what has to happen in a scene to move this part of the story forward. Don’t worry about what could happen or what should happen. Be concerned only about what MUST happen. Now that you know what must happen, figure out who must be in the scene to make it work. Put only those characters into it and leave out everybody else.
At this time, use only two or three sentences to write your scene. That’s all you need at first.
Next you determine where this scene takes place. It may be obvious after you asked yourself what must happen, but if it isn’t, fix the setting into your mind. Consider that events happen in places one might think out of place. Think of a teacher and high-school student as they discuss the child’s grades. You’d assume this would happen in the classroom, most likely after class, right? Why not have this discussion take place at a racetrack or better yet a bar. Now that would perk the scene up, don’t you think?
Now consider how it all ties together. A classic secret is to begin as late in the scene as possible. Regardless, this next beginning almost calls out for recognition as it naturally piggybacks off the ending of the previous scene. However, give this a bit of thought, too, and see if you can’t punch up your creativity just a bit. For example, your student and his teacher are talking at the races when one scene ends. The next scene might typically start the following day in class. What if this second scene started as they watch the school burn down? The oddity of your settings may just give your novel a unique and imaginative spark. After all, why should all the surprises come at the end of a story?
The next thing you might want to do is visualize your scene as if it were in a movie. If you can see there, it’s probably got some strength to it.
After all this, now’s the time to pen what many call a scribble draft. It doesn’t have dialogue, setting or anything beyond simple physical actions. Make is a bare-bones outline. It’ll sound something like this:
Jack runs down the hill
Jill runs after him.
Jack falls down the hill, and drops his bucket.
Jill does too and screams as she tumbles.
Both land in a heap at the bottom of hill.
After all that, now guess what you get to do? Yep, first draft. It time to put fingers to keyboards and clack away.
You may find it useful to write your scene first with only the characters’ physical actions and nothing more. When you close your eyes and “watch” your scene take place, look for those areas that stutter or slow the pace. Those are the parts that need work. After you’ve “seen” it play out, go through this process again, this time with the dialogue. Does it “hear” as well, too? If not, you know what needs work. Do this a third time with your setting in mind and you’re good to go.
The real secret to a good scene is visualization.
After you string a few scenes together, reread them and ask what’s the worst that could happen if this scene or that were omitted in whole. If the basic storyline is unaffected by the missing scene, it’s unnecessary and should probably be cut from your manuscript.
Yep, it’s a lot of work, but you’ll get that beast wrestled to the ground and your story will emerge. Good luck.
Here’s a couple tips many find useful. Write your last scene first and the first scene second, at least in outline form. If you know where you need to go, the steps to get there will become much more obvious.
If you remember, I recommended you first write out your scenes in just two and three sentences. If you do, put all these mini-scenes on the same piece of paper, a file of its own. Make a copy of that document before you expand them into full scenes. This is the start of your synopsis. (You’ll thank me one day for this tip!)
Until we speak again, I wish for you only best-sellers.
C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers”