Every great story began as an idea. Taking a great idea and turning it into the great American novel hinges on your ability to transform your idea into an engaging story. This is accomplished through scene development.
Stories are but a series of scenes strung together like precious gems on a bracelet. To give stories texture and color, narrative summary is used between scenes. Together, scenes and narrative summary give life and energy to your story to captivate readers.
Each new scene must communicate your initial idea in a way that provides an experience, not a lecture. A scene launch is a reintroduction, capturing your reader’s attention all over again. A new scene is signified by:
- the start of a chapter
- a break of four lines (called a soft hiatus) between the last paragraph of one scene and the first paragraph of the next
- a symbol such as an asterisk, to let the reader know that time has passed.
Things to consider when beginning a new scene include:
- Where are my characters in the plot?
- Where did I leave them in the last scene, and what are they doing now?
- What is the most crucial piece of information that needs to be revealed in this scene?
- What is my protagonist’s goal for this scene?
- How will that goal be achieved or thwarted?
While there are many ways to launch a scene, only the writer can decide which kinds of launches will work best for each scene, and choosing the right launch often takes some experimentation. Review the following launch approaches to determine what works best for your project.
The sooner you start the action in a scene, the more momentum it has to carry the reader forward and energize the reader’s physical sense. The key to creating strong momentum is to start an action without explaining anything.
To create an action launch:
- Get straight to the action – don’t drag the scene down with unnecessary narrative or descriptions.
- Hook the reader with big or surprising actions – think plane crash, heart attack, etc.
- Make sure action is true to character.
- Act first, think later – example, “John jumped from the ship into the crashing waves. What have I done? he thought.”
Get your main character in the scene by the second paragraph to avoid losing the reader. Excessive description or narrative without characters makes the reader impatient for something to happen and someone for it to happen to.
To create a character launch:
- Make a scene purposeful by assigning characters an intention or goal to pursue, and then reveal, follow, build upon or even thwart the character’s goal.
- Ensure intentions are closely tied to goal through the actions, discoveries, and explorations your character undertakes that drive the story forward.
Some scenes benefit from a narrative launch so long as you don’t hold the reader captive too long.
This approach is best used to:
- Save time by beginning with a summary for a quick start to your scene.
- Communicate information before the action kicks in.
- Reveal a character’s thoughts or intentions that cannot be shown through action.
If the setting bears dramatically on the characters and the plot, then there is every reason to let it lead into the scene that will follow.
To do this:
- Be specific with visual details for the lay of the land – vegetation, geography, weather.
- Use scenery to set the tone of the scene – an eerie house conveys danger, fear, and mystery.
- Reflect a character’s feelings through setting – dark clouds reflect a dark mood, just as a field of sunflowers reflects a happy mood.
Remember, only you can determine the appropriate launch for your scenes. Experiment with the above to develop focused scenes that drive plot and engage readers.