What exactly composes a scene? I think of a scene like a trip to the mountains. There are valleys of flowers and cliffs of varying shapes and colors. Sometimes the end of the trail leads to a beautiful waterfall. Suddenly we notice a dead body floating at the far end . . . and the story begins. Each scene you create should stand on its own and add to the story in a crucial way, creating a structurally solid read.
How do we make scenes intrinsically sound? The way I do it is to imagine every scene in my head. I see my characters and feel what they’re feeling and understand why they react the way they do. If you run your story through your mind like a movie, you’ll find holes and implausible behavior.
This is a good way to let your characters take over, do what comes naturally, and lets them improvise . . . my characters have written some of my best scenes.
Check the beginning of each scene and make sure it grabs your reader immediately. Again keep in mind, “no one waits for the action to begin.”
Don’t just be concerned with scene beginnings, but be equally aware of scene endings. This is your chance to make the reader unable to close the book and continue another time. Stop just when your character is going to make a critical decision or when something terrible just happened or is just about to happen. Maybe the character is pushed to the limit and is ready to either explode or do something they might regret. Make your reader decide, ‘ok, just one more chapter.’ If I’m into a book – I’ve been known to close it (begrudgingly) at three am.
I know this might sound strange, but a scene must serve a purpose. Its job is to further the story, clear-up or create doubt, and add intensity. It must nurture the story and keep our readers turning the pages.
Be aware of placing in every scene. Dialog can speed up your scene and thoughts and descriptions will slow them down. This creates a feeling of movement. You can use internal and external conflict, dialogue, actions, and description to draw the reader from chapter one to reading ‘the end.’
Each scene should be as strong as the previous one. Make sure there isn’t idle dialog or paragraphs of descriptions, or endless internal conflict that slows or weakens the scene. Introspection can be a killer if it’s overdone. Idle conversation;
“Hi, how are you?”
“Hi, I’m fine.”
“Where are you going?”
“Home, I’m tired.”
“You want to go to a movie with me?”
“No, I’m just tire and want to put my feet up and relax.”
Yikes, I’d toss that book across the room and pick it up only to toss it in the trash. Cut . . . cut . . . cut those weak areas and tighten up each scene. Look for the outcome of each scene and make sure your character achieved his objective.
Don’t be nice all the time. Don’t make everything turn out happily ever after. Real life, as well as the lives of our characters, is full of ups and downs. There are conflicts, reactions, accidents, premeditations, disappointments, etc., and sometimes bad things happen.
Again, make each scene grip the reader and wanting more. Make your reader care by creating scene after scene that fulfills the journey until the end.