A scene is a sequence of events occurring at a particular time and place and moves the story forward. A story or novel comprises many scenes, which are the building blocks of your novel and serve a specific purpose.
A scene can include narrative, dialogue, thought, action, sensory descriptions, and interior emotions. Each scene should have a goal of driving the plot forward. Weak scenes can affect sub-plots, the main plot, character development, or the entire novel.
Weak scenes can be identified by:
- lack of focus on the plot
- undeveloped character motivation
- weakness in characters’ personalities or actions that don’t fit the character
- excessive dialogue that doesn’t go anywhere
- too much introspection or thoughts always preceding actions
- not enough tension
To strengthen a scene, consider these five tips to write a strong scene.
- Action before thought.
Thoughts before actions can give away details or an impending action. Thought carries more weight when it follows the action. Consider how this example would give away the action if the thought came first.
Becca dumped the plate of spaghetti over Mark’s head. Mark stood from the table and leaned toward Becca, anger flashing in his eyes. What have I done? Becca thought and scooted her chair back from the table.
- Reveal necessary information before action.
Information can be used for foreshadowing and setting up action later in the scene. Opening sentences can easily lead to action.
Example 1: The blizzard coated the roads in a thick layer of snow and ice.
Example 2: The fire had reached the second floor before I arrived.
Example 3: The drive had been long and uneventful. Miranda looked forward to the peace and quiet of staying at the cabin in the woods.
- Use scenery to set the tone.
Describe scenery in a way that sets the tone, mood, and/or emotion of the scene. Scenery can also be described in a way that foreshadows what might happen by evoking feelings such as fear, mystery, darkness, danger, excitement, or happiness.
- Action should fit the characters.
Unless there is a clearly defined explanation, a character should not act in a way that contradicts his/her established personality. A timid, shy character wouldn’t suddenly stand his/her ground and dictate to others. A domineering bossy character might belittle others in a way that adds conflict, but he/she wouldn’t easily give in to someone else’s demands.
- Don’t procrastinate with action.
This can slow the pace, make a scene drag on endlessly, and lose the effect behind the intended action. In some cases, this can also make a character appear weak and indecisive. Compare the two examples below.
Example 1: Nicholas drew his dagger from his scabbard and joined the fight.
Example 2: Nicholas looked at the men fighting before him and wondered if he should join the fight. He took two steps forward and stopped. He pulled his dagger from his scabbard. With his dagger drawn, he joined the fight.