We learn the alphabet, words, sentences and then paragraphs in school. We are taught how to write papers and introduced to poetry and story. What we may not be taught is scene. Yet books are full of the things. How are we supposed to write a scene?
I recommended in Finish Your Book I that you get a DVD of a movie and go into the special section to study the concept of scene. This exercise should give you a feel for what scene is. You should also look at several of your favorite books and study how the author writes scenes.
Length does not a scene make. A scene may be one sentence or pages and pages. The one thing a scene has is only ONE point of view (POV). When the point of view the scene changes. So, no head hopping within a scene is the first rule.
Another common trait is that the new scene will begin with something that any observer can see. A scene begins with something that not only the POV character sees, but anyone who is nearby could observe. It will begin with an event that sets the scene in motion. Example; There was a splash of blood on the rock. Not only the POV character can see this but you could too if you were there.
What happens next? You record the POV’s instinctive reaction to what they see. Instinctive reaction will come first before anything else. It may only last a nanosecond and may not be anything an outsider can see, but it is THERE. Example; Emma froze at the sight. Here is a time to remember that when frightened there are three possible instinctive reactions not just two. Everyone recognized the phrase Flight or Fight. What is seldom mentioned is Freeze. Yet, you can see the natural reaction of freeze anytime you go for a walk where there are rabbits or quail or other prey animals. Most of them will stand completely still for an instant before they run away (or fight if cornered.) Hence; Emma froze.
Next? The POV will do something. Example; She sucked in air and, heart startled back into action, looked around her. She nearly missed the cougar crouching on the same colored rock.
Now what? Example; The surge of adrenaline nearly made her legs buckle. She threw her hands in the air and yelled, “Get. Get outta here.” She forced herself to move forward. Running away would only provoke the cougar into attacking.
Now what? You might continue with this scene or, in some cases, you’d leave your POV and switch to another scene. After all you now have a rather nice cliffhanger. Will the cougar leave? Or will it pounce and drag Emma back to its lair?
The important thing about all this is to move from outside to the inside of the scene and do so in a way that will engage the reader’s emotions. When we read fiction we do so for the emotional feelings the story creates. It is always a good idea to remember this when writing. Fiction is about emotion.
Now I am going to suggest rather than try to create a new scene go to your manuscript, if you are trying to finish a book you surely have some of your story written down somewhere, and pick out a part that can be considered a scene. Check it to see if you wrote it in the right order. You probably did after all you wouldn’t write; the teacher jumped up and yelled. The class held its breath as the teacher sat down. The class stirred and giggled as the teacher turned from the blackboard and went back to her desk. Jack tiptoed back to his desk… As you see I turned the order of things around and it makes the scene difficult to follow. You don’t want to make things hard for your reader. You want to make it very easy to keep on reading the next line.
If your scene is confusing because you’ve gotten the natural patterns mixed up i.e. Goals, Conflicts, Disasters are the overall patterns of a scene; the outside POV that all can see and the internal dynamics of Reaction, Choice, and Action aren’t in line then you need to rewrite until they are in proper order.
Practice the art of creating scene by writing some throwaway scenes that carefully follow the complex weave of setting a goal, having a reaction, inserting a conflict, creating a dilemma, provoking a disaster and reaching a decision.
Think of the exercise as a flowchart of story if that makes more sense to you. While you don’t have to have every single point in a scene the ones you do have MUST be in proper order. Now, my fellow writer, go forth and create scene.