Writing Scenes: How-To Secrets

Writing Scenes that Work

by Deborah Greenspan

In order to make sure our books are among those that people want to read, we have to write them to be read.  A lot goes into this.  We have to know for whom we’re writing: adults, teenagers, children, women, men?  The more specific we are, the more likely we’ll be able to target and reach the people in the groups we’ve defined.  Once we define our audience, we need to learn about writing scenes.

Writing Scenes and Sequences

The scene in a book, like that in a movie, is basic to the structure of the story.  When writing scenes, we string them together like beads in a necklace to form sequences, and then string the sequences together to tell the story.  For example, let’s say we want to tell of a boy walking on the beach and finding an oyster.  This may require more than one scene.  In the first scene, we have the beach and what he’s doing on the beach. We hear the waves; we feel the wetness of the water; we smell the salt and feel the sand between his toes as the boy runs down the beach.  Then he stops when he sees an oyster in the water. He picks it up; he examines its rough shell.  He runs his fingers along the closure, and  the oyster opens its shell a bit.  Curious, he tries to force it open.  Unable to do so, he heads back toward the beach house where he lives.  End of scene 1.

In the second scene of this sequence, the boy goes into the house, encounters his grandmother, talks to her briefly about the beach without mentioning the oyster, manages to sneak a knife out of the kitchen, and finally, pries open the oyster shell, finding a tiny pearl inside.  During this scene, we learn about the boy’s relationship to his grandmother, what they’re doing in the beach house, and probably much more.  Each scene is an opportunity. By making the scene live, we engage the reader’s imagination, enabling him or her to believe in the reality of the book and identify with the characters.

Writing scenes that live and breathe requires that the reader hear, smell, taste, visualize, and even touch the elements that make up the scene. Although dialogue is part of most scenes, long, lengthy discussions that are not grounded in the reality of the book become tedious very quickly.  If you write scenes that are all dialogue,  you’re asking the reader to do too much of the work.  It’s the writer’s job to explore the place in which the characters interact.  Where are they standing, sitting, moving to? What are they doing? What objects are they handling? What do they see or smell? Do they touch each other? Push their hair out of their eyes? Do they nervously fold and refold whatever’s in their hands?

When writing scenes, we describe the action, have characters speak, and expand on the space in which they exist. This gives our scenes immediacy, richness, and body, adding substance to our work, exploring plot and character, and giving our readers the ability to fully identify with the characters and experience the world we’ve created for them.

Learn more writing secrets in Deborah Greenspan’s The Secret Sex of Books, published by Breezeway Books.

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