In my last post, we reviewed the definition of a scene, and discussed the function of scenes in the context of a novel. You can check out that article here: Scene Building 101. Today, let’s consider some practical tips for writing engaging scenes.
Choose a POV.
Even if there are several characters involved in a scene, for clarity’s sake, consider writing it from one point of view. Head-hopping within a single scene can be confusing for readers.
Give the scene a high moment.
A scene should contain a small story-arc of its own within the arc of the whole novel. There should be a moment of highest tension, an instant of revelation, or a climactic action of some sort.
Be sure something changes.
Something should have changed during the course of the scene, either with plot movement or character development.
Launch your scene effectively.
There are many ways you can choose to launch your scene. Here are a few examples:
- Action Launch – Dive right into the middle of the action! Is the main character being chased down a dark alley? Is the space ship crash-landing on an uncharted world? Has something gone terribly wrong with the spell and now a demon is on the loose?
- Narrative Launch – Perhaps you need to set the stage a little before bringing the reader into the heart of the scene. Consider giving a quick summary. Perhaps we need to get inside a character’s head before the action starts. A brief internal narrative may be the most effective way to launch the scene.
- Setting Launch – If the physical setting is crucial for the upcoming scene, a brief, vivid set-up makes sense. Is your character stranded in the bitter cold arctic? Is she hiding out in forest camp? The reader may need some information at the launch set-up if the setting is going to play a role in the scene, or if the setting is so foreign that the reader needs help creating a picture in their mind.
End your scene with readers ready to turn the page, not close the book.
- End in the middle of ongoing action. A character in peril will definitely keep readers on the hook!
- End with a realization. The reader will wonder where this new information will lead the character and the story.
- End with a new problem. Your characters may have gotten through one obstacle only to find another.
- End with emotion. Maybe a discovery or an action is going to have a major emotional impact on a character.
Use varying types of scenes to optimize pacing.
Strategic use of different types of scenes in your story can help with pacing, allowing for moments of pulse-pounding action, nail-biting suspense, but also the deeper moments which allow us to see into our characters souls.
There’s a lot to think about when crafting a scene for your novel, but don’t be overwhelmed. Tell your story first. Once it’s out, you can use these and other scene building tips to tighten the story, finesse pacing, and add more tension and emotion to individual scenes.