Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Every story has a beginning, middle, and end . . . we hear this over and over.  That’s because it’s the essence of a good work of fiction.  Every scene must come alive for the reader . . . if it doesn’t – they lose interest and once that happens we’ve lost their trust – and the story is over for them.  We never want that to happen.

Each scene must hold its own and further the story as well as create its own beginning, middle and end.   A great place to start a scene is at the beginning of a new chapter or by a break ((called a soft hiatus) which we all recognize by spaces and asterisk, to let the reader know time has passed.

Each scene is responsible for introducing a new plot or ideas that capture the reader’s attention and furthers the stories main plot yet adds challenging consequences.  So how do you do this?

Remember this fact as a golden rule; the sooner there is action – the faster it’ll grab your reader.  Never explain action.  The barebones of action are time and momentum.  It takes time to set-up, even foreshadow, a murder.  It takes time for the heroine to find herself lost in a cave, not knowing which way to turn, and where is her husband?  It takes time for a character to find a long, lost parent.  It takes time to walk out of a house, take nothing, and never look back.

Momentum on the other hand begins immediately.  Throughout action you must create a sense of time.  It’s not a good idea to force your reader to read on go get a sense of environment.

Have you heard the expression ‘action launch?’   In this incredibly written article written by Jordan E. Rosenfeld, I’ve learned action launches will energize a reader’s physical senses.  How do they do that?  Rosenfeld explains it like this:
Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Author

ACTION LAUNCHES tend to energize the reader’s physical senses. To create an action launch: 
1. GET STRAIGHT TO THE ACTION. Don’t drag your feet here. “Jimmy jumped off the cliff” rather than “Jimmy stared at the water, imagining how cold it would feel when he jumped.”
2. HOOK THE READER WITH BIG OR SURPRISING ACTIONS. An outburst, car crash, violent heart attack or public fight at the launch of a scene allows for more possibilities within it.
3. BE SURE THAT THE ACTION IS TRUE TO YOUR CHARACTER. Don’t have a shy character choose to become suddenly uninhibited at the launch of a scene. Do have a bossy character belittle another character in a way that creates conflict.
4. ACT FIRST, THINK LATER. If a character is going to think in your action opening, let the action come first, as in, “Elizabeth slapped the Prince. When his face turned pink, horror filled her. What have I done? she thought.”
NARRATIVE LAUNCHES- Writers often try to include narrative summary, such as descriptions of the history of a place or the backstory of characters, right at the launch of a scene, believing that the reader will not be patient enough to allow actions and dialogue to tell the story. In large doses, narrative summaries are to scenes what voice-overs are to movies—distractions and interruptions.
Yet a scene launch is actually one of the easier places to use a judicious amount of narrative summary, so long as you don’t keep the reader captive too long. Take the opening of this scene in Amanda Eyre Ward’s novel How to Be Lost:  
The afternoon before, I planned how I would tell her. I would begin with my age and maturity, allude to a new lover, and finish with a bouquet of promises: grandchildren, handwritten letters, boxes from Tiffany sent in time to beat the rush. I sat in my apartment drinking Scotch and planning the words.
The above bit is almost entirely narrative summary, and the only action—drinking Scotch—is described, not demonstrated. There is no real setting, and the only visual cues the reader has are vague and abstract. However, the narrative summary does demonstrate the nature of the character, Caroline—she feels she must butter her mother up, bribe her even, in order to ask for something she needs, which turns out to be a relatively small thing. It reflects Caroline’s tendency to live in her head, and shows us she’s the kind of person who must prepare herself mentally for difficult things—a theme that recurs throughout the book. It’s also useful because Caroline spends a lot of time by herself, cutting herself off from her relationships, and, therefore, it is very true to her personality. In just one short paragraph of narrative summary, the reader learns a lot about Caroline, and Ward gets to action in the next paragraph:
Georgette stretched lazily on the balcony. Below, an ambulance wailed. A man with a shopping cart stood underneath my apartment building, eating chicken wings and whistling.
If the entire scene had continued in narrative summary, it would have had a sedative effect on the reader, and the scene’s momentum would have been lost.
A narrative approach is best used with the following launch strategies:
5. SAVE TIME BY BEGINNING WITH SUMMARY. Sometimes actions will simply take up more time and space in the scene than you would like. A scene beginning needs to move fairly quickly and, on occasion, summary will get the reader there faster.
6. COMMUNICATE NECESSARY INFORMATION TO THE READER BEFORE THE ACTION KICKS IN. Sometimes information needs to be imparted simply in order to set action in motion later in the scene. Opening sentences such as, “My mother was dead before I arrived,” “The war had begun” and, “The storm left half of the city underwater,” could easily lead to action.
7. REVEAL A CHARACTER’S THOUGHTS OR INTENTIONS THAT CANNOT BE SHOWN THROUGH ACTION. Coma victims, elderly characters, small children and other characters sometimes cannot speak or act for physical, mental or emotional reasons; therefore the scene may need to launch with narration to let the reader know what they think and feel.
Tomorrow we’ll finish up with ‘setting launches’ . . .

Jordan E. Rosenfeld is a writing coach/editor, freelance journalist and fiction writer. She is the author of NIGHT ORACLE (romantic suspense) FORGED IN GRACE (psychological suspense), and two writing guides: "Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time" (Writer’s Digest Books) and "Write Free! Attracting the Creative Life" with Rebecca Lawton (BeijaFlor Books). She also edited Zebulon Nights: An Anthology of LiveWire Readers (Word Riot Press, 2002) and co-edited Milk & Ink: An Anthology of Motherhood (Outskirts Press, 2010).

Look for her books from Writer's Digest Books, 2015: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO PERSISTENCE and, with Martha Alderson, DEEP SCENES: PLOTTING YOUR STORY, SCENE-BY-SCENE, THROUGH ACTION, EMOTION & THEME.

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