Writing Scenes – At Last A Practical Guide


Writing Scenes

At Last A Practical Guide

23Embarrassment doesn’t begin to explain how I feel.  I actually wrote an entire novel, 168,000 words, with 84 scenes.  And I had almost no idea how to write scenes!

I’d read enough stories that I could conjure up scenes that worked for me, without any hope of explaining why they worked.  And, at some point, I’d studied Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure.

So, what did I know?

Dialog was like ping-pong.  Only two could play.  One was my POV.  Another was her antagonist.  She wanted something.  His goal?  Keep her from getting it.  And they went back and forth.  Eventually, he won and she lost.  She wound up worse off than she started.

And, I knew sequels followed scenes.  Action happened during scenes.  Afterward, my POV would emotionally react to what happened, try to make sense of it, and plan her next move.

And, my instinct told me there were other constructs.  For instance, I knew that action scenes are best done when my POV reacts and works from instinct.  She should leave thinking for later, if she still has any brains left to think with.

So, what was missing?

I didn’t know how to balance scenes

Until I read Sandra Scofield’s book, and did her exercises, I had little clue about balancing scenes.  I discovered I could break scenes down into smaller units — not just dialog, but physical beats (or actions), setting and character description, and internalities.  Now?  I color code my scenes.  I highlight physical beats in blue, setting and character description in green, and internalities in yellow.  Then, looking at how my colors group, I can see how I laid out my story.

When I rework my scenes, my first task is to create space for my characters to work in.  Sadly, I’d usually let them wander featureless space.  Now, I make sure at least one of my first three paragraphs is green.  That way I know I’ve plopped them down somewhere solid.  Also, when important characters make their first appearance, or return after long absences, I should see lots of green.  I probably don’t have much green as I get near my scene’s end.

Next, I make sure I’ve avoided talking heads.  How?  Move them around.  Now, my characters walk around, touch each other, and adjust their skirts.  Blue shows me where they are doing things.  And…more importantly, I can see if they are in character for that moment in time.  Maybe no blue is good.  Maybe not.

Lastly, I look at their thoughts and feelings, colored in yellow.  If I don’t see any, or only some, how can I tell how they feel?  Or…if I see huge blocks of yellow, I’ve probably created drama kings.

Those highlighters literally changed how I look at scenes.

I didn’t know what kinds of scenes were.

There just had to be more than dialog scenes.  But, how was I supposed to write them?  I’d run into odd things in my First Draft.  Some scenes had two people carrying on dialogs, and fighting with each other, but it felt wrong.  And, when I got to action scenes, I knew enough to not have her stand there and daydream while death and mayhem threatened her.

One of my friends from Scribophile suggested Jordan Rosenfeld’s Make A Scene.  I wasn’t thrilled about reading yet another book.  But I finally broke down and got it.  Amazon Prime is wonderful – I crave immediate gratification, don’t you?

As I went through her early chapters, I picked up tricks.  But, she rocked my world when I got to Chapter Twelve.  On page 105, she described elements of First Scenes.  She spent eleven pages giving me clues on how to get effects I had struggled for.  I cried. Finally, finally, finally, someone told me how to do it.  She offered up such obvious things as:

  • Introduce my MC and her significant situation right away
    • No character development
      • No explanations
        • Just throw her in and let her sink or swim
          • Don’t let her solve her problem
            • Leave her in trouble.

I went and looked at my first scene.  I had sworn I would never change it.  It was perfect.  It did everything I wanted.  And…I rewrote it from beginning to end.

Then I read her other scene descriptions

  • Action
  • Climax
  • Contemplative
  • Dialog
  • Dramatic
  • Epiphany
  • Final
  • Flashback
  • Suspense


Finally, I knew why my Final Scene hadn’t worked.  And my Climax had seemed empty and forced, almost like faking it.  And my Dialogs often had no point.

Jordan’s book profoundly changed my WIP.  I had assumed I was ready to start rewrites.  Until I read her book.  I went back and examined every scene, deciding what kind it was, and whether it was still where it should be, or needed to move.  Thank heavens I read her book before I rewrote my story.  Otherwise, I would need three drafts to get it perfect.  Ha.

Maybe I should hold off reading any more scene books until I get my WIP rewritten.

Read about how I use scene types.


2 thoughts on “Writing Scenes – At Last A Practical Guide

  1. Pingback: Silent’s March Missive | Simply Silent

  2. Pingback: Scene Make Outs | Simply Silent

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