I spoke with a client today who is moving from first to second draft on her historical fiction. She is reading one of my novels and she commented on the quick pace and the fact she enjoys reading my scenes. Her question of the day: How do I make my scenes sharp, whole, and compelling.
Here are a few quick tips:
1) When possible keep the scenes to 2 or 3 primary characters.
2) Know what each character wants going into the scene. If you’ve ever taken an acting class, you know that each actor has a scene goal — and usually a secret the she keeps from her co-actor.
3) Know each character’s secret, what each is withholding.
4) Each scene has a beginning, middle, and end–but just as you do with the story as a whole, start the scene as late into the action as possible.
5) Know who drives the scene and understand the difference in status between the characters. (Make use of status and power, it’s fun!)
6) Read, reread, or watch “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and see Maggie and Brick want, need, and fight for control. Watch who drives each scene.
7) Know what is at stake in each of your scenes.
8) Keep characters in action and working emotionally (charming, ignoring, seducing, threatening, bribing, demeaning, bullying, etc.) for what they want; passive aggressive action is action, too.
9) End every scene (with one exception) with the tension UNresolved! Note, tension is what you need in every story and tension = unmet need. Once you write a scene where the characters’ primary needs are met, the story is over, Finis.