I’m a bit preoccupied with the question of “What creates a great scene?”
You’ve probably had movies and books that come alive for you, where the story seems to leap off the page and become more of a part of you than the life that you live. So there are probably dozens or even hundreds of scenes from stories that have become a part of your psychic makeup, and in a way, these are very important: these story fragments create experiences that are shared often by millions of people, and so they are ties that help bind us to a much larger world.
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So we know that these moments from a story can be important, but what makes for a vivid, memorable, captivating, and glorious scene? You can probably give examples of a dozen or so right off the tip of your tongue, but have you ever taken time to analyze them, to figure out what works and how to create your own?
As an author, you need to know how to do that. Every story is composed of parts. I’ve talked about some of the larger building blocks of a story before—the inciting incidents, the try/fail cycles, the climaxes, reversals, and the denouement.
But in order to create a story, you need to dissect it into smaller parts—individual scenes. Your inciting incident for example might have as few as one scene or as many as twenty—little snippets where your character discovers that he has a problem and that the problem is so massive that it is life-altering.
As an author, it is your job to imbue those scenes with enough information, energy, passion and interest so that they come alive in the mind of your reader.
Some new authors think that it is just enough to “introduce their characters” when they begin writing a story, and because they strive for too little, usually their stories will feel fake, flimsy, and boring. They haven’t learned to recognize the components of a good scene, to see how it might fit within the overall scheme of a tale, and then build a scene from those components.
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But here is what I’d like to start with today: if you’ve written a scene that just “doesn’t work,” recognize that you can make it better. Perhaps your character isn’t properly motivated to do what you have him doing. If so, you have to consider: is there anything that I like in this scene at all—the setting description, a snippet of dialog, or an intriguing conflict? If not, definitely throw it out, every piece. It won’t fit in your story anywhere. But if there is something that strikes you as grand, beautiful, and useful in that scene—it might be nothing more than the description of a chair—then consider saving it away in a file for later use.