Scene Progression

Building Your Novel One Scene at a Time

Scene Progression

State the goal of your Lead at the beginning of each scene. What does she want? What does he need? How does he plan to acquire the thing he wants? What will she give up for the thing she wants? This “want” is your Lead’s stake in the ground.

Promise pain through foreshadowing (tears, heartache, physical discomfort)

Deliver pain through action (show your Lead suffering)

 

Progress from goal to conflict, disaster, character development (how does she grow?)

 

Suspense is anticipation, so announce the reward for your Lead early in the scene

 

Restate your Lead’s goal as necessary (halfway through)

 

 

Never let your Lead relax for too long

 

 

Increase the risk of failure (towards the end of the scene add-to the penalties for failure)

Tension comes from unresolved conflict so leave your character’s world messy

 

Promise the payoff for that scene, then delay the payoff until later in the story.

 

 

Deliver a payoff, but not the thing your Lead sought

 

 

 

A Novel IdeaExcerpted from A Novel Idea.

From the Author

For ten years I’ve sat across the appointment table with authors who pitch me their project. When I ask:

“Who’s your main character?”
“What’s the inciting incident in Act One?”
“What is the main character’s call to action and how do they deny this call?”
I often get blank stares.

I wrote this book so authors could review their project and fix their story: or, in many cases, toss the story and begin a new novel.

I quote Steven James, from the book Save the Cat, James Scott Bell, and other successful authors and screenwriters because these individuals have mastered the craft of writing. I tell authors in my classes to learn from those who are best-sellers. There is nothing new in this book that you cannot find in a library full of writing books. I have simply compiled the essential elements of a novel into one book.

I teach from this book at writers conferences. Some authors say it helps them organize their novel. You decide if it helps you.

Dramatic Dialogue

Writing Dialogue for Scripts and Novels

Dramatic DialogueA scene is: Doing (Action), Thinking (Narrative), and Talking (Dialogue)

Obviously, we can’t know what others are thinking. We can see them moving, doing, and we find that interesting, but when they speak, we listen. The cell phone rings and we answer it. A loud speaker blares and we pause.

Talk is not cheap. Talk is tension.

A writer has a number of tools for story building: narration, action, description, and dialogue.

Description and narration will move it slowly, steadily, and easily along. Think literature.

Action and dialogue will speed it along—dialogue more so than action. When characters start talking, the story starts walking.

Dialogue reveals theme. “Sometimes the right course demands an act of piracy.” In the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow actually states the theme of the story in dialogue. When possible, allow your main character to speak the theme through dialogue.

Function of Dialogue

Dialogue reveals the character’s motives and opposing agendas. A dialogue scene propels the story into high gear. We love to eavesdrop; through words we reveal our heart. We introduce our characters through dialogue, expose their motivation, wants and needs.

Behavior is external; motives are internal. Dialogue presents both at once.

Elements of Dialogue

For dialogue to work it must:
Sound right for each character. There are four aspects to consider:

  • Vocabulary (words each character uses)
  • Words & Expressions unique to each character (establish a saying or phrase early in the story)
  • Regionalism
  • Dialect (accent)

Since dialogue is best when it is an extension of action, give your characters different agendas in a scene. Then the dialogue will take care of itself as your characters work through a problem in the scene.

Making a Scene Readers Will Remember

Making a Scene Readers Will RememberThe power of a scene is derived from the slightly claustrophobic feeling you get when you focus on the characters. They seem somehow trapped in a place, unable to leave. Through your writing you pan across the room, landscape, and set the context, before moving in for a close-up shot of the characters. Now reveal the pain, stress, hurt on your characters’ faces. In order to engage the reader’s imagination, your scenes must do one or more of the following:

  • Move the story through action
  • Characterize through reaction
  • Set up essential scenes to come
  • Sprinkle in surprise

A GOOD SCENE

  • Reveals information that moves the story forward with new goals, old secrets, and hidden motives
  • Shows conflict between characters (this adds tension)
  • Deepens the character’s development by exposing another flaw or strength
  • Creates suspense by introducing a new wrinkle that leaves the reader what will come next

Making A Scene

Making a scene is as easy as: ABCD !

Action!

Static settings will put your readers to sleep, so get your characters moving. Show the world around them spinning. It can be something as simple as snow falling on a patio railing or bullets piercing the sides of the limo, but you must show movement. Make sure the reader “sees” something is happening. If readers can feel movement, that’s better.

Background

Open with action, then place the scene in context. Why are the characters in the scene? How did they arrive? What does your Lead want? Background IS NOT history. Background IS showing your Lead’s goal for that scene. Your character must want something. What is it? This is where you will state your Lead’s goal for this scene.

Conflict

Who or what stands in the way of your Lead reaching his goal? Present the barrier. Include conflict on every page. Never let your Lead relax. Show the struggle! Increase the risk of failure. Tension comes from unresolved conflict, so let the scene devolve into a mess.

Decision

At the end of each scene, your Lead must choose a course of action. A scene moves from struggle, discovery, choice, and change. Character choice, not circumstances, should drive your story forward. At the end of each scene present your lead with two choices and force him or her to pick one. The rapids approach. Should your character: Reach for the branch overhead or try to swim for the rock in the middle of the river. High stakes decisions at the end of each scene force readers to turn the page to next chapter.

Scene Summary

When you finish writing a scene, ask, “Is this scene necessary?” Read the scenes before and after. Does what just happened deserve its own scene? Could the information be placed in a neighboring scene?

A great novel is made from a series of great scenes strung together. Do that and readers will beg you to write more.