Sunday, 9 April 2017

What Every Scene Needs


My writing desk is an old sewing machine. As you can see, I like sticky notes ;)

Imagine your novel as a storyboard; a series of graphic organizers (sticky notes on the wall above your writing desk) displayed in sequence for the purpose of visualizing your story.

Each sticky note represents a scene with a brief description or illustration detailing what happens.

Now, pick one sticky note. 

Is this scene essential to moving the plot forward?

Could it be more effective at another point in the story or should it be pulled off the wall and out of your novel completely?

If you're not sure, go down this check list and see if your scene has what it takes to keep the reader interested.

Using THE RIGHT FIT as an example, I'll be taking excerpts from Chapter three, the scene where Maxine and Antony meet for the first time.

1. Setting 

Ground the reader in place and time, but instead of saying it was a hot morning, describe how your protagonist is already sweating in their shorts and flip flops at the breakfast table.


Chapter three of THE RIGHT FIT is from Maxine's point of view and it's obvious from the beginning she's uncomfortable with this setting.

       Maxine was already lonesome for her bed and laptop as Crosby pulled her through the crowd. A line had been snaking along the sidewalk when theyd pulled up in the cab, but Crosby knew the doorman—she always knew the doorman. Maxine cringed under the glare from the other patrons still waiting outside in the frigid late February night as they were swept inside.
      “Is it always like this? Maxine asked, shouting above the music.
      “Of course,” Crosby said, smiling widely. “Uniun is the hottest dance club in Toronto.”






2. Tension

What's at stake for the protagonist? What is preventing them from reaching their story goal? There should be some kind of conflict in every scene.


Too embarrassed to tell them that she was stood up, Maxine lies to her friends about her botched blind date, but then the guy shows up!

       "A mojito with extra mint leaves for the cougar, Stuart teased. Then he nodded toward a group of guys even younger than he and Westley. Crosby tells me youre in the market for meaningless sex. I think delta-gamma-go-all-night over there is a good start. Might as well go for the sure thing. He squinted across the room, then added, Or sure things if youre feeling adventurous.
       Over Stuarts shoulder, Maxine saw a slim man with a crewcut walking through the crowd, a pint of beer in one hand. Oh God! She panicked. It was the divorced high school teacher with a phobia for dentists.
     She spied the neon sign for the washrooms, then grabbed her clutch, and quickly left the table. Stuart called out something, but the music was so loud it drowned out his words.


3. Emotions

Show how your characters are feeling. Describe body language. Connect the reader to the POV's emotional state. Don't forget about senses.

Ah! Their first kiss...


Hide me! Maxine blurted out.
        He frowned back at her, not understanding.
        The crew cut was about to pass them, he was only seconds away from seeing Maxine in her stained dress, her breasts covered in food.
        She panicked. What would Alexis Colby do?
        “Est-ce que
        Maxine never heard the rest of his question. His words disappeared against her lips as she grabbed him by the t-shirt and pulled him to her, pressing them both against the wall.

      She breathed in a spicy scent, and his stubble grazed her chin. Shocked by her own actions, Maxine stayed locked in the embrace. The kiss was chaste, but as the seconds passed with neither one moving from the other, the moment changed, becoming heavier, more charged.
     She was all too aware of the warmth of his lips, the pressure of his mouth against hers. Then he leaned back. His surprised expression matched her sputtering pulse. Merci, Ms. Dior, he said.       
      Maxine blinked a few times, her footing felt wrong, like the floor was tipping. I…uh, she started. Sorry about that. I must have slipped.



4. Dialogue

Employ key phrases for characters, but be careful of repetition. Nail the voice. Does it move the plot forward or is it just chit chat?

Since Antony is French, their first conversation in a loud dance club gets construed, but his assumption that her name is Ms. Dior is quickly established as her nickname and is played out as a cute quirk between the two of them as the novel progresses.




 Est-ce que ça va? he asked, bending down closer to her ear.
       “Excuse me?
        His look of concern melted into a wide-eyed stare. Belle rousse? he said.
       “Bathrooms? Maxine shouted up at him. Theyre down the hall.
        He gave her a mischievous grin. Are you okay?His gaze wandered her face, then lowered and fixated on her chest.
       She looked down and saw her green dress was stained, and the extra mint leaves from her drink had settled in between her ample breasts like some kind of cleavage dam. A wave of mortified embarrassment collapsed over her. And in addition to everything else, the outfit was ruined. Carmine would be so upset. Its vintage Dior, she said, her voice crumbling a bit.
       A complicated series of frowns played across his features. I can pay for dry cleaning, he offered. There was a pause, then he added, Ms. Dior.




5. Action

Action can be as simple as your protagonist finally calling up her secret crush, or as complex as a car chase through road blocks and marching bands.

       Standing against the wall in a daze, Maxine watched his broad for cut a path through the crowded bar. What the hell had she just done? Maybe he was going to tell a bouncer about her. She could imagine the conversation. Theres a large woman in an old tight dress grabbing guys by the bathroom.
       “No problem, sir, well have her contained immediately. Grab the tranquilizer gun!
        Snickering to her left snapped her back to attention. Two girls who looked barely old enough to drink were standing in skintight dresses with their heads together laughing behind manicured nails, cutting glances across the way. Maxine stood wearing her stained vintage Dior that now seemed musty and antique.
        Expecting to be tossed for violating hot lumberjacks, Maxine rushed to the closest exit, not even bothering to get her coat. The sharp winter air almost took her breath away. 



6. Internalization

Internalization is what the character is thinking, it takes the general and makes it personal. It's a great tool for handling infodumps, just make sure to keep it in their voice (let them internalize and judge what they’re thinking about) then it comes across more naturally. 

Maxine opened her clutch and looked at her phone. Shed actually gone fifty-five minutes without thinking about him. That was a record. But now, of course he was all she could think about. Did he think about her? Did he miss having coffee in bed on Sunday mornings while she read the comics and he did the crossword—he always used a pen, never a pencil. She loved that confidence about him. In fact, she still had the last puzzle hed done.
      The familiar stone lodged itself in her heart. She loved Johnny. She still loved Johnny. They had been together for four years.
      Four years!
      Four years of sharing and dreaming. Four years of walking through Umbra making imaginary purchases for their future home. Four years of waiting in the arrivals at the airport every time he came home—she was always there to meet him.
     And four years of walks in the park when they would make spontaneous plans, like the time they decided to adopt a rescue dog…except neither one of them filled out the forms.
      Four years.
     The burden of all that time was too much for Maxine to ignore. She simply refused to accept all that time, all that work with Johnny was for nothing.
 

7. Hook

A development the reader wasn't expecting that throws more conflict toward the protagonist, and keeps the reader invested and turning the pages.

       The cabbie beeped his horn and swore at the traffic, unable to pull into the lane.
       “I have no place I need to be, Maxine said, picturing her bed and laptop. She thought back to the kiss with the stranger and how foolish she must have seemed to him. Alexis Colby never looks like a fool, she whispered to herself. She would have kissed him again—no thats not right. She would have slapped him first, then kissed him back hard, and then left him wanting more.
        The cab driver narrowed his gaze at her in the rearview mirror.
       “Wouldnt it be great if life was like 80s TV? Maxine asked him. Everyone was in shoulder pads and size double zero didnt exist.
       He shrugged then turned up the radio.
       Maxine hugged her elbows. The traffic lights reflected off her fingernails.
       A sharp blast of frigid air ripped through the backseat. A massive upper body wrapped in a thin cortex jacket jumped in the backseat. Before the cabbie could protest, Maxine turned and was face to face with an ACE Towing ball.


So, how does your scene measure up?

What are some of your favorite scenes from novels?



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