One way to begin a scene is to start with some kind of action. Readers love action. Not everyone though. Back in the day when the first movie of Speed came out with Keanu Reeves, it was heart stopping action from the word ‘go’. The elevator scene at the beginning of the movie left me breathless. Those of you who saw that movie know what I’m talking about. I then recommended the movie to my mom who, after watching the elevator scene, stopped watching the movie because it was too much of a thrill ride. God bless her. She tried.
Essentially, any scene where events are flowing at a constant/continuous pace is an action scene. Some good ways to depict action in your story include:
Use shorter sentences. They are easier to comprehend, and they allow for faster reading which leads to faster action (You want this).
Use a mixture of action and dialogue. Stay away from long descriptions. It slows down the action.
Don’t write what is going on inside the character’s mind at the time. These thought processes will happen before and after but not during.
Here are some types of scenes that lead to action:
A character or characters faced with a choice and either option is equally as tough.
When I was in high school, I went to the Rueben Daniels Center of the Arts and Sciences. In my dance class we learned about theme and variation. What we had to do was choreograph a dance routine that was about one minute in length. Once we had our routine down, we had to choreograph two more dance routines based on the first one. More precisely, they had to be variations of the first by modifying it somehow without changing it completely. With writing this can also be done. Create a scene. Then, create two more scenes by varying the first scene. But, don’t vary things too drastically. It needs to be clear that your varied scenes are essentially the first scene but with slight differences.
What does this do? It works at developing creativity. It’s like a brain workout except its “bench pressing” words instead. So…have fun with it and think outside the box.
When you’re writing, whether it’s a short story, a novel, or a poem, do you pay attention to what is going on around you when you aren’t writing? Sometimes I’ll write down what I hear/see in my journal for later use and sometimes I don’t. Most times I remember. I know what you must be thinking. “How can you remember all that?” Well, I don’t. It isn’t until I’m writing a scene, and what I’m writing triggers a memory of something I saw or heard, then if it fits the scene, I use it. But, most often it’s only snippets of a conversation or something I saw that I end up using. Journals are a wonderful thing though and can contain a treasure trove of useful info. Take what you can from real life and mold it like clay.
The pictures below of are my journal for my novel The Triunix of Time. As you can see from the warn tabs and such, it’s been used quite a bit.
Do you listen to anything while you are writing? More specifically, do you listen to music while you write? I have found that it helps inspire certain types of scenes. For example, if you are writing a romantic scene, you might listen to some easy listening type of music. Also, if you need inspiration for danger within a scene, you could listen to music that brings across that feeling of foreboding.
Years ago I was listening to some music while writing some poetry. As a happy surprise, when reading the poem later after it was finished, I was told by others that they could “hear” a song while reading it because there was a cadence to the words as they read them.
Add music to your “playdough” mix of words. The results may surprise you.
We write and we edit. We try to get the story on paper or the computer screen, then we go back when we’re finished and edit what we’ve written. That’s how it’s supposed to be done anyway. Does that always happen in that order? No. Not always. There are times when we try to edit as we type. The left side of our brain wants to insert itself at the same time our right side of the brain is trying to be imaginative and creative. This process can cause you to slow down when you’re trying to come up with a story.
Let’s say you’re a paragraph into writing a scene. So far you like it, but then the analytical side of your brain (left) is saying ‘No, no. That won’t work’. You go back and rewrite parts of that paragraph. You like what you came up with and move on to the next paragraph. You’re a couple of sentences into the second paragraph when your analytical side starts rethinking what you rewrote in the first paragraph. So, you go back and look at it but aren’t sure how you want to fix it. You end up sitting there thinking. Your fingers start strumming on your desk and you lean back in your chair and stare at the ceiling. An hour later you haven’t fixed anything, nor have you moved on with your writing. Had you waited to fix what your analytical side of your brain wanted to fix, you would have been MUCH further on in your story. You may have even gotten a chapter done.
How many of you can relate to the scenario above. I know it’s happened to me at times. So, how do we turn off the left side of our brain and make its impatient self wait? It’s quite easy actually. You make it wait. Turn it off. If you don’t like something you’ve just written, make a note of it so you can go back at a later date and fix it when you’re not writing. Choose a specific day and time when that’s all you’re going to do is edit and fix.
Loosen the “rope” when you’re creating and “tighten” it back up when you’re editing.
Sometimes we put up barriers when we write. This is different for everyone. Some of us analyze too much, while others plan too much. Yet some may strive for perfection before moving on. My barrier is the analyze thing. I question everything. Not that questioning things is bad to do. We should do that, but when you continue questioning whether what you wrote or in which place a scene/scenes was put, it takes up precious writing time.
Another author I follow and get advice from, told of a first time writer working on his first novel. This young writer asked his advice on his first chapter. So the author read the young writer’s first chapter and ended up being very impressed with it. He asked for more. The young writer didn’t have anymore to show, as he had been working on the first chapter for months trying to get it just right/perfect. The author shook his head and told the young writer to stop striving for perfection. Why? If you do that, you will never get your book written. As long a time it took him to get chapter one finished, he could have had multiple chapters finished had he focused more on getting the story out.
The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. You just need to get the story written. When that first draft is finished, THEN go back to square one and change what you don’t like. This may be difficult at first, but with practice of letting go and letting the story unfold as it comes, perfection will take a back seat eventually.
I like to think of writing a novel much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. There are so many pieces and there is so much to think about. Placement of each piece/part is key if it’s going to fit with the rest of the ‘picture’. One wrong placement can make the rest of the story appear out of place. So, where do you start? Better yet, what do you start with? That really is up to you. As long as all the pieces fit together and the ‘picture’ at the end fits together, how you get there doesn’t matter. After all, we’re all different.
Still, there is so much to think about. Please see the list below.
Point of View
Generally speaking, these are the biggest elements that go into the creation of a novel. It’s quite a bit to keep track of while you’re writing. For the first time author writing their first book it can be daunting. One might ask, “How do you work with all of them as you’re writing?” It’s simple. You don’t. Yup, I said it. You don’t. What you do instead is this:
Write the first draft to get your story down. Start from the beginning and work toward the end. Start from the middle and work your way to the end then write the beginning. Write the end then the beginning and then the end. Whichever way you go about getting that first draft done is up to you. Just get that done first without worrying about the particulars listed above. Put if away for a few weeks when you finish the first draft. This will keep your mind fresh when you go back to write draft two.
In draft two look at the story structure. Make sure make sure each Act has the appropriate information in it (Please see my post from July 17, 2020 entitled Story Structure in Three Acts). Story Engineering by Larry Brooks is a wealth of information. I highly recommend it.
Go through each scene. Is the structure of each what it should be? There are two types: 1. Action 2. Reaction (Please stay tuned for a later post on this topic).
Here is where I would go through and look at the character development of your Main Character. There must be character growth from the beginning to the end. Here is where their character flaw comes into play. Remember, by the end of the book they will overcome their flaw. How they do that is part of their growth.
Setting is huge. Readers need to get a good idea/picture of where your story takes place, what it looks like, and how it’s connected.
Point of View is a huge one. You don’t want to confuse your readers by accidentally moving from first to third person or vice versa. So, choose a point of view and stick with it. Go back and make sure it’s consistent throughout.
Voice encompasses more than one thing. It incudes diction, detail, imagery (through description or use of simile or metaphor), dialogue, tone, and syntax (the way words are arranged). As you read through your manuscript looking for these elements as it relates to voice, you might find you need to add something here or there or change the way a character said something.
Theme goes along with the main message you are trying to convey to your reader. What is it you want them to learn by the end of the book? Do you accomplish this?
PLOT HOLES. This is huge. After all is said and done, please read through your whole manuscript and look for those pesky inconsistencies. Readers will find them and you don’t want them to. Keep a style sheet where you keep track of details you need to remember throughout your story. Your 31 year old MC can NOT be 42 in the last half of the book (unless they’ve been lied to and that’s part of the story). Her/his birthday you had mentioned on page 20 as being January 8, 1972 can’t be mentioned later on page 245 as being March 23, 1974. I just won’t work.
The editing is the very last thing that’s done. Grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc. This comes last before publishing.
As you can tell, these tasks are not done in one swoop. They are done one at a time (generally). Hey, if you are able to focus on one or more at once that’s fine too. The point is take your time. Focus, do not rush. The story won’t grow legs and walk away. It’s yours, so take your time and make it the best YOU you can make it. By doing this, all of the pieces will fit together, so that when someone else looks at it (reads it), they will be looking at something that will stay with them and make them come back for more.