Happy Friday, good people of the blogosphere! Today I'm gonna talk about writing scenes. If you remember, a while back I wrote a post on Showing vs Telling, When Telling is Okay. If you haven't checked that post out, I invite you to do so now. One of the comments that popped up on that post was a question by another writer about specific examples of how to use this technique. Well, grab your pens and notebooks and let's get going!
A collection of scenes in a novel are what bring the story together. Image a spiderweb where each thread is heading toward a central location (your epic ending). Choose one or two of those threads and follow them inward. Now, everywhere they meet at a cross-thread is where a scene occurs. Notice how those scenes gain in number as they reach the central core.
As your characters meander toward that center, there are what I'll call sections of Getting There Prose. These sections aren't intense and the reader gets a good sense of who your character is by what they're doing between scene A and scene B. Sitting and drinking coffee, for example. In these scenes, you're giving your reader a little break from the tension and action. They're also commonly used to lead into the next rise in momentum.
Here's the key: Leave out description. Dull down the five senses ever so slightly.
If Joan is sitting and drinking coffee with her bud Lisa, Joan can look over and notice the girl appears tired without going into a long description of how she looks tired.
Example of telling:
Joan blew the steam off her coffee and looked at Lisa, noticing the dark circles under her eyes. "Girl, you look exhausted."
"I am." She nodded and slumped.
That's dialogue to cut out description and give a coasting feeling to the scene. Your reader expects light conversation to follow and friendly terms.
Let's go the other way. Say this coffee scene isn't what it appears to be. Joan is poisoning Lisa.
Example of showing:
Joan blew the steam off her coffee, inhaling the heady scent of the special Colombian beans she ordered for this encounter, hoping it was strong enough to cover the distinctive almond of the arsenic. She tilted her head up slowly, peering over the rim at her adversary, noting the dark circles under Lisa's eyes and the way she gripped her cup with both hands. "Girl, you look exhausted." It was difficult for Joan to keep her tone light because of the nervous energy radiating through her limbs. Blinking rapidly, she gave a wan smile.
"I am," Lisa croaked out, slumping in her chair and letting out a huge breath in a whoosh. She pushed her too-hot ceramic cup back and stood.
Now, you've engaged all the senses. Smell: coffee, Sight: Lisa's dark circles, Sound: light tone and whoosh, Taste: almond, Touch: too-hot and nervous energy. This is also a place where you don't want to describe the room around them. You should've already put that picture in the reader's head before the ladies ever sat down. When you use description leading up to a tense scene like this, use short sentences. It indicates something's coming.
You've pumped up the scene and the reader expects what?
Either A) For Joan to go bananas because Lisa didn't drink the poisoned coffee, or B) For Joan to pretend to be friendly and hide her anger while trying to get Lisa to drink the coffee.
Either way, it's gonna be a tense situation. We've made it so. Can you cut a lot of that description and get to the same place? Yeah, but the tension is lost.
Joan blew on her coffee, waiting for Lisa to take a sip of the arsenic-laced concoction. "Girl, you look exhausted."
"I am." Lisa slumped and let out a breath before pushing her cup away and standing.
Same outcome. You know something should happen afterward but the resulting action won't have the same punchy effect on your reader. You haven't built up the tension quite enough.
To fill your novel with scenes that show everything all the time, you're reader will either get too hyped up or they'll start skimming. Skimming is bad. It means your reader has disengaged from your story. Very few writers can pull off a book like Dean Koontz's Intensity.
Remember to vary your sentences and your word usage. Not sure how to do that? I wrote a post on Variation, too. If you missed it, check it out.
Don't forget to pay my featured author of the week a visit! N.L. Greene, author of the highly rated book Twisted, graced me with an interview. You can find that post here.
Thanks so much for stopping by.
Are you familiar with this writing technique?
Next week, I'm going into how to use MS Word to rate your book's tension. Betcha didn't know you could do that, huh? So, come on back for that.
Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!