Ever since I started writing (granted, it’s not that long) I found it easier to break my work down into scenes and work my stories with that in mind. So, today’s topic is SCENES and their ELEMENTS.
1. First of all, any scene should have characters (the driving force behind any decently written story) that readers can identify with. In other words, each reader should be able to find at least one thing in the character’s behaviour that he or she can honestly say ‘that makes sense to me; I would act in the same way.’ If we miss that, then we feel detached from the story and sooner or later we are going to put the book down or at least claim that the story wasn’t nice.
2. A scene also needs to be exciting. How can this be achieved? By having conflict in the scene. Keep in mind that conflict doesn’t mean crisis. They are completely different. An interesting character is a conflicting one and it’s the character’s role (technically, it’s our role as writers/storytellers) to bring the character’s conflict into the scene. If the character is one who values life as sacred and is instead forced to make a choice that will result in the end of another life, then this is conflict. If a character is brought up as an honourable and never act behind the scenes, forcing that character to go against their personal code of conduct to preserve the greater good or the status quo, will result in tension, suspense and ultimately conflict. Which in turn means the scene is interesting.
3. A scene should be clear enough for the reader to know who’s to cheer for and who’s to mourn. It doesn’t matter if later in the story these roles will be switched. All that matters is that the scene will be clear in showing who’s who.
4. It goes without saying, that any scene uses strong sensory details; hearing, taste, sight, touch, smell. Use it all at the right time, in the right amount. The story I’m currently writing (The Darkening) takes place in a world where humans can only live in darkness. Sight is virtually non existent, so all the other senses have to make up for it.
5. There should only be enough back story that will drive the plot forward. This was something that used to plague me when I first started and I think to a certain extent, it’s something that everyone has to deal with as they begin. It’s a more prominent mistake with any of us writing high fantasy, or create new worlds for our stories. The rule ‘avoid infodump’ should always be in our minds with this one.
6. It’s vital to have some kind of foreshadowing going on, if not at every scene, certainly at those that are more vital in showing us things about the characters or the plot. Don’t overdo it though, cause then you end up infodumping and the reader may get bored.
7. Do I need to say anything about author intrusion? I think not. Points 5 and 6 are somewhat related to one another by the blunt intrusions we often as writers/storytellers make. So no author intrusions. Avoid things like ‘and as it’s known, crocodiles are vicious killers’ (sounds, terrible, doesn’t it?)
8. A scene becomes more interesting if we guide the reader through a familiar setting, by showing the things that are unusual. There’s hardly anything strange or unusual in a bedroom but what if the character was to enter such a room and see that the bed cover is creased and messed up at one side? Something happened there and we just showed it to the reader.
9. I had read somewhere that when describing a scene it’s best to show the important aspects of a scene first and then the less important ones. It makes sense but I think this may come down more to how each writer handles that. One thing for sure is that the way we handle this thing has to be consistent.
10. A scene should have turning points for a character in the dramatic action, as well as the character’s emotional development. Have a character that appears to be selfish, do the right thing, after the character has fought with himself inside.
If you know of any other elements for a scene that don’t fit in the above, please comment below.