Writing a Scene

Scenes are the building blocks your story is made of. A scene is a unit of action and each scene needs action to be successful. Let’s explore what else goes into making a scene.

Every scene must have a goal or something the main character is trying to accomplish. No desire in the character, no story. And each scene should have a goal for you as a writer, whether it’s to further the plot, introduce a key character or plot point, or show a change in a developing relationship between your characters. Knowing your goals will help you write each scene and make them stronger.

Each scene must have something happen to push the story forward. Each scene must consist of an action, a reaction, or a mixture of both to be successful. Determine what happens in each scene and what conflict is caused by the events of each scene. How does your protagonist deal with this conflict?

So how do we get started with each scene? First ask yourself what happens in the scene and what your main character’s goal is. Then ask yourself what would happen if you took out this scene. Is it really crucial to your plot? Next, figure out exactly who are in this scene and who needs to be. Then ask where does this scene take place? How does the setting impact the mood and emotion of the scene? Determine when this scene takes place, linearly or as a flashback. Figure out if this is a long scene or a short scene and brainstorm how the scene begins and ends. Now write your first sentence. This may change while you’re writing but give yourself a strong starting point. Write a quick version of the scene. Then write the full version of the scene. Repeat.

Start with a goal, both for your character and for yourself as a writer and each scene will be stronger and easier to sit down and write. Strong scenes make for a strong story. Do you have any tips when it comes to writing scenes? Anything you struggle with personally? Comment below and happy writing always.

Julia

Follow me on Twitter @hijinkswriter and on Our Write Side for my weekly column.

The Mary Sue

****Update****

Before we get down to business I wanted to update you all on what’s going on in my writing life. I have begun as a columnist at a great site for writers, Our Write Side and you can check out my articles right here every Tuesday. Those articles usually answer a more specific topic that I mention here briefly so it’s great supplemental reading without being too redundant. Check out my column and let me know what you think.

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The Mary Sue. Who is she and why is she such a problem? Let’s find out. The Mary Sue character is often a perfect or idealized version of the author. However tempting it may be to write an awesome version of yourself, it makes for a flat character and a cliché. The Mary Sue is so special that nothing can defeat her (boring) and so perfect, not to mention gorgeous and beloved by all, she becomes unrelatable and dull. There’s no tension, no conflict, no suspense, and no character growth. These are all big no-nos. We’re supposed to write what we know, but creating a character that is wish-fulfillment for yourself is not the way to go.

Characters need flaws and weaknesses to make them more human and well-rounded (check here for more on that) and also to grow in their character arc. No change in your characters, no story. It’s as simple as that. We want interesting and dynamic main characters, not Mary Sues. Also be wary of giving your super special Mary Sue likeable flaws that aren’t really flaws at all, like being clumsy or endearingly dorky. Give her a real weakness and add suspense and real conflict to your story.

You can draw from your own life and have similarities between yourself and your character. Just don’t make them too idealized or too bland (real life doesn’t always translate well as drama). And don’t think Mary Sue only applies to female characters, there are Marty Stus with the exact same problems.

Now that you know what makes a bad Mary Sue you can write stronger characters that may or may not have some similar attributes to yourself. After all we writers put a little bit of ourselves in every character. Just be aware of what doesn’t work and why. What’s your take on Mary Sue characters? What’s the worst Mary Sue you’ve ever read? Comment below and happy writing.

Julia

Backstory

Backstory is everything that happened to your characters before your current story. Backstory is an important thing for you as a writer to know and think up but detracts from your story when overused. So let’s discuss how and when we should include backstory.

Out of your character’s backstory and history, only 10% should go into your story. Knowledge of your character and their past will help you write a well-rounded character but unless it pushes the present story forward, it should be omitted from your WiP. No matter how tempting it is to include, if it doesn’t shape the present, it needs to be left out. Your readers want to know what happens next, not what happened before.

Backstory should be used for foreshadowing and be given at just the right moment. If your character is trained in fighting, don’t wait until right before a fight to tell the reader. Then it will seem like a deus ex machina situation where the reader will feel cheated. Foreshadow instead. And make sure your backstory is pertinent to the current story. Don’t give your character a dark and troubled past that doesn’t affect the current story. Again you’ll leave the reader feeling cheated. The trauma they experience should be linked to the current plot in some way.

So how do we include relevant backstory? By avoiding heavy exposition and info dumps at all costs. Instead weave information in and focus on the Show Don’t Tell rule. Sprinkle the information in between the dialogue and action.

Only use backstory to further the plot in the here and now and to keep readers from getting confused. Use it to foreshadow, giving relevant information before it is needed by readers. And intersperse it between your dialogue or action so it doesn’t overpower the story.

What are your thoughts on backstory? Do you have any tips about when to use it? Comment below and, as usual, happy writing.

Julia

Setting

Setting is often overlooked by writers despite the fact that it is the skeleton for our stories. Our plot has to happen somewhere and be grounded into existence in space and time or our readers will be lost in the vague abyss of nothingness. You must answer where your overall story takes place as well as where and when each scene takes place. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Weave description throughout the scene and the story. Many writers remember to give a brief description of the setting at the beginning of each scene but never touch on setting again. It’s important that the rest of the scene is also grounded in setting, so refer to it briefly throughout. But remember to sprinkle it in. Readers skim past large chunks of description and heavy-handed descriptions kill the action. Weave it throughout.

It is also important to use all five senses when describing setting. Use vivid imagery to immerse your reader into each scene. Also, use concrete nouns in your description. Instead of “he sat in the chair” use “the middle-aged man collapsed into the worn leather armchair.” Be specific and watch your descriptions come to life.

Use your POV character as a filter for your setting. Different people notice different things based on their upbringing and personality so make sure your descriptions match the POV character giving them. What would a rich person notice compared to a working class man? Describe accordingly.

Setting descriptions build the mood for each scene. Is a storm raging outside, causing the shutters to bang against the house? Or is the perfect day in May for a picnic with your protagonist’s love interest? Set the tone for each scene.

And keep in mind which details you describe or choose not to describe. If you let the readers know the main character has a gun, readers will expect it to come into play later. This is great for foreshadowing, but don’t spend time describing objects that have no significance to the story. Your readers will feel cheated.

Keep these tips in mind as you create your story world. Blend your setting into your scene and ground your story in reality. Do you have any tips for setting? Share below and happy writing.