4 quick tips for writing a scene for writers

One of my writing weaknesses is my writing.

Let’s try that again.

One of my writing gifts is the innate ability to write a lot of words without a whole lot happening. I know my characters love to wander aimlessly through the world of my writing, making a few interesting observations here, enjoying long descriptive sceneries there, only to find themselves crushed under a massive writer’s block a few thousand words later.

Recenly, I have been working on a humor novella that I’d like to finish within the next few months (25,000 words or so), and something that I wish to master before throwing the work on Amazon is crafting a scene.

Scenes that are full of action, immediately grab attention, and get the story moving. If you have a similar weakness (or gift?) as me, here are few things I’ve learned:

1. Think large scale - What’s the purpose?
More from Advanced Fiction Writing

Beyond knowing what happens in the scene itself, think about why this scene matters. This might be less important for the first draft (because you might not really know your theme until you write the d*** thing), but considering what a scene accomplishes before starting will give you a guideline for structure.

Advance Fiction Writing also writes that scenes follow one of two patterns: Goal-Conflict-Disaster (Scene) or Reaction-Dilemma-Decision (Sequel). With a Goal-Conflict-Disaster pattern, the idea is that your main character has a goal, faces obstacles before achieving that goal, and at first fails at that goal. This follows with a Reaction-Dilemma-Decision pattern, your character reacts to his/her failure, must choose between two equally bad options, and ultimately makes an interesting decision. Of course, this is just one way to think about scenes in the context of a larger work, but it's not a bad one!

2. Act first, think later - Get right to the action
More from Writer’s Digest

With an idea of what you’re trying to accomplish, don’t waste any time getting your characters doing what they do best – acting! This is where the tip “show don’t tell” becomes super important. I have personally found it difficult to do this on a first draft, but certainly by the second draft, your story should move from one physical movement to the next.

Good rule of thumb, act first and think later. Instead of “David wondered what his next blog article would be,” write “David stared at the laptop screen, and took an exaggerated sip from his pumpkin spice latte. His mind drew a blank, until…”

3. Make those pages turn for the reader
More from How To Think Sideways

A good quote from How To Think Sideways, “If you can’t write page turning scenes, you don’t have a book.” If you focus too much on your beautiful prose or the beautiful mind of your characters, you are making your text an uphill battle for your readers. It’s not that they don’t think you are an amazing writer, action is just easy reading.

For example, consider this action scene:

"Behind you! Sebastian!" Adrian's shout.

He saw them then. Silent as beetles, two men scuttled toward him.

More followed, slipping from doorways and corners. Under cover of the rain and fog, the pack had stalked in, unseen, converging from three directions. They were Irish, from the Gaelic they tossed back and forth. They carried knives and clubs and chains. These were vermin from the dockside, deadly and cold as ice.* They'd sent the girl as a honey pot to hold him while the gang closed in. She'd smiled at him while she was planning to watch him die.

"Run from me." He let her loose. "Run fast."

But she backed away, wide eyed, breathing hard. "How? Nobody knows I'm here." That was shock in her voice and fear. She turned in a circle, looking for a hole in the net closing round them. And he knew she was no part of this. No decoy.

Then, consider this descriptive paragraph:

On one corner of my dresser sits a smiling toy clown on a tiny unicycle--a gift I received last Christmas from a close friend. The clown's short yellow hair, made of yarn, covers its ears but is parted above the eyes. The blue eyes are outlined in black with thin, dark lashes flowing from the brows. It has cherry-red cheeks, nose, and lips, and its broad grin disappears into the wide, white ruffle around its neck. The clown wears a fluffy, two-tone nylon costume. The left side of the outfit is light blue, and the right side is red. The two colors merge in a dark line that runs down the center of the small outfit. Surrounding its ankles and disguising its long black shoes are big pink bows. The white spokes on the wheels of the unicycle gather in the center and expand to the black tire so that the wheel somewhat resembles the inner half of a grapefruit. The clown and unicycle together stand about a foot high. As a cherished gift from my good friend Tran, this colorful figure greets me with a smile every time I enter my room.

Both of these passages have their place in a novel, but look at the beautiful negative space in the action scene. Action scenes are easier on the eyes, more quickly digestible, and take less work. On the other hand, the descriptive passage is certainly well written, but too many of these strung together will be tedious for a reader's eyes and attention.

Three more page-turning quick-tips
  • Constantly think about conflict and change.
  • Don’t have all your good action in one place of your book.
  • Don’t give your reader all the information; instead, create intrigue with hints.

4. Pacing – Too much of anything is a bad thing
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Too much action is exhausting; too much description is exhausting. After you’ve served a savory dish of activity, cool it down with a nice glass of prose. The two will complement each other very nicely, and create a rhythm for your readers.

Bonus! Check out this infographic from John August 

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