Friday, December 30, 2016
Until I started writing Bloody Hollow Summer, I had only a surface knowledge of what scenes in a novel should accomplish. I thought, Well, something is supposed to happen here, so I'll just put my characters someplace and have them do something and say something. I soon had a bunch of boring, lazy, worthless so-called "scenes" that a twelve-year-old might have written.
I believe I've said this before, but this writing stuff is hard.
After many revisions (ongoing, perhaps until I'm old and gray -- oh, wait, I am old and gray) I am learning the importance of writing scenes that serve a purpose.
Every scene in a novel must work toward something. A good scene should move the story forward and engage the reader. It should highlight character motivation, enhance setting, foreshadow future events, complement the tone of the story, or add some other important element to the whole. Obviously, a scene shouldn't just be there for the heck of it, or just so the characters can talk about what they had for breakfast.
Even though the rules of writing are broken for any number of good reasons, there are patterns which have been proven successful with regard to creating scenes. Those who have been doing this writing thing for a long time advise that scenes that open with long, involved descriptions, history or backstory, are a distraction. Avoid launching a scene with paragraph after paragraph of narrative. If a particular setting, or pertinent information about a character's thoughts or intentions contribute to the action of the scene, keep the summary short, no more than 2 or 3 quick paragraphs, if possible, and then get quickly to the action.
Good scenes should incorporate 3 elements: The point-of-view character must have a clearly-defined goal, must face obstacles and conflict in order to achieve that goal, and must face disaster because of that goal. These 3 elements should lead naturally to 3 more scene points which are called the sequel: An emotional follow-through, a dilemma for the character, and a decision which involves new goals. This 3-part sequel allows the reader to absorb what has happened in the scene.
Scene endings are the perfect place for cliffhangers, surprising revelations, and emotional turmoil. The ending of a scene should always involve a promise of further compelling situations.
Building a novel takes almost as many tools building a house, just in different forms. That, I think, is what makes us writers unique. We have to use tools that nobody but another writer can see. We have to build something from nothing.
It's a hell of a job, but somebody's got to do it.
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."