If you’re one of those 15 second readers, there you go. For those of you needing to sink your teeth into these three points before clicking away, stick around for a bit. All writers want to know how to build a scene, but not just a scene. A great scene. A scene that will sell. (Hence, all of my advice is credited to Swain and his brilliant book Techniques Of The Selling Writer.)
Let me build it up into more substantial bits for you starving writers.
1) Goal. Your character must have a goal, and it shouldn’t be something broad and vague like “world peace.” Well, I say, that’s great, so how are you achieving world peace right now? How about picking up the trash the person on the sidewalk in front of you dropped?
2) Conflict. Your character reaches down to pick up that trash and… he trips. Falls on his face. Gets knocked completely unconscious, actually. The more intensely you as the writer oppose your character’s goal, the stronger your scene will be. Writers, step into the shoes of the villain.
Another way to escalate conflict is to reveal new information. Rewind to the character bending down to pick up the trash, and someone behind him shrieks, “No! That’s contaminated with a virus that could wipe out the human race. That man in front of you is a terrorist.”
See how that drastically escalated the situation and spat on the character’s goal at the same time?
Want to learn about a story’s full structure? Click here.
Of course, as the writer, it’s best if the new information you introduce is relevant to the plot and current situation. It should make sense to the reader. My own preference when writing is to keep my character in the dark for as long as possible. But my readers can know everything.
3) Disaster. Yes, this can be an actual disaster. Earthquake, run! But technically, a disaster is a new piece of information. A twist. A slice through the character’s goals. Readers turn the pages because they’re asking, “What will this dude do next?” (Which is why your character dude has to do something, because no one wants to read about a character that doesn’t do something.)
Back to my example with the character trying to pick up biohazard trash. The voice behind him catches up when he pauses on the sidewalk, and he has a little device that beeps continuously at our character. “What’s this?” character says.
“I’m so sorry. You’ve already been infected. You’ll die in three weeks.”
Have you written a scene like this? How did it go?
I’ll be blogging soon about the scene’s partner–the sequel. Together, they twirl a magical dance that constructs what we writers exist for. The novel. The story. Until then, thwart your character’s deepest desires. Don’t let him get what he wants unless he’s still fighting on the last page. Then he can have what he wants.