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Dear Readers

Scene

First scene

Burn these words into your consciousness now and forevermore: Plot and character cannot be separated. Your significant situation is the something bad, difficult, mysterious, or tragic that happens to your protagonist in real-time action–in other words, it feels as though it is happening at the moment the reader reads it because it isn’t narrated in exposition and it isn’t a flashback scene. The action is happening now! This monumental event is what sets your story in motion, what compels your character to take action, because, after all, the problem belongs to your protagonist first and foremost. Through other plot twists and complications, the significant situation may lead to a whole host of trouble for other characters, but not at page one. The opening scene belongs to your main character.

Your significant situation may lead to a whole host of trouble for other characters, but not at page one. The opening scene belongs to your main character.

Your significant situation should happen within the first couple of paragraphs. If you force the reader to wait too long for the event that they hope is coming, you stand to lose them before ever getting to it.

So, what does your first scene need to be successful? The following, for starters:

  • A significant situation that challenges your protagonist’s status quo.
  • A catalyst with whom the protagonist can interact.
  • A quick introduction to your protagonist’s immediate intentions.
  • A glimpse of your protagonist’s personal history and personality, which should shed further light on her motivation.
  • A course of action or a decision on the part of the protagonist that leads immediately to more complications.

Make A Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

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Dear Readers

Scene

The Withhold

Your characters need goals, desires, and ambitions to appeal to the reader’s sensibilities. But to create the juicy tension that keeps a reader turning pages, you must dangle the objects of desire just out of their reach at times, using a technique known as withholding.

There are many things you can withhold in scenes, such as emotions, information, and objects.

The longer you withhold the object from the person or people who want it, especially during the middle of the scene, the more tension you can build–Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Dear Readers

Scene

… each scene must contain:

1. Sharply delineated characters.
2. Clash or conflict that keeps building actively as something happens.
3. A time boundary. (The when.)
4. A place boundary. (The where.)
5. An emotion boundary. (Its own specific mood in the story.)

Think of each scene as a microcosm in the macrocosm of your entire story. It has a beginning, middle, and end, with a strong reversal of the opening at the closing and with pluses and minuses in between.

Make complete scene outlines of professional stories and TV plays and you’ll learn the scenic reversal rhythm yours must have. A scene that starts with a plus ends with a minus, etc. It’s true always, no matter how new or old the story–F. A. Rockwell, ‘Making a Scene’ in Handbook of Short Story Writing.

Dear Readers

Tone & Mood

Tone refers to the narrator’s attitude toward the material; mood is the emotional state engendered in the reader by the material …

Before you develop mastery over narrative tone to the extent that you can experiment with it, it helps to become aware of the tone in the works of other writers and start seeing how you have, perhaps unintentionally, applied tone in your own writing. Sometimes I see students use a joking or ironic voice on material that is very painful for them to write, as though they can keep from feeling by making light of it … Ask yourself if you are using irony or [humour] as a way to avoid emotion. Other times, inexperienced writers use an overly earnest or overly poetic tone that demands readers acknowledge that this is a Very Serious Subject or that the writer is a Very Creative Person. But we readers don’t like to be forced–we want the tone to fit the material subtly and organically. Again, when you examine use of tone in your own writing, make sure you aren’t trying to stack the deck or force your audience. One of your purposes in choosing a particular tone is to create a mood in your reader, and the mood will be spoiled if the tone detracts from or overwhelms the material–Showing & Telling by Laurie Alberts.

Dear Readers

Scenes

Turning Points

Turning points can be shown via actions … Turning point scenes can occur without direct confrontation. A turning point scene might be wholly internal, as when it leads up to a character making an important decision or coming to see the truth about a situation without necessarily voicing that awareness … Think about what point in your narrative your protagonist or narrator reaches a turning point. Your turning scene–and it must be a scene, not a summary–can show this change in the character’s life or consciousness through thoughts, action, or dialogue. But it must grow naturally out of what comes before so that the turning point is credibleShowing & Telling by Laurie Alberts

Dear Readers

Dialogue

Subtext

… most conversations involve a sort of sophisticated multitasking. When we humans speak, we are not merely communicating information but attempting to make an impression and achieve a goal. And sometimes we are hoping to prevent the listener from noticing what we are not saying, which is often not merely distracting but, we fear, as audible as what we are saying. As a result, dialogue usually contains as much or even more subtext than it does text. More is going on under the surface than on it. One mark of bad written dialogue is that it is only doing one thing, at most, at once. —Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.