If you’ve read MAKING SENSE OF SCENES in our resource section, you already know a bit about scene construction and its importance to the structural integrity of your novel. Without scenes, there can really BE no story.
And if you haven’t read it, go ahead and do so. We’ll wait!
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to challenge you to not only understand the basic elements of a scene but to take your understanding even deeper, to challenge each and every scene so that it’s working harder than a writer at a literary agent convention.
To do so, I’m simply going to prompt you to question yourself and your scenes, to take each of the mechanical components of scene (i.e., inciting incident, goal, etc.) and find ways to deepen and expand its significance.
Every one of these questions may not apply to every one of your scenes, so this isn’t about driving yourself crazy. It IS about making you think, really dig into a scene, push yourself to find the hidden gems stashed in the back of your mental cabinet. It’s about making thoughtful, rich choices so that the novel truly blossoms and so that your reader is given the richest, most satisfying experience possible.
It should be noted that the basics of scene covered here come from the teachings of the late Gary Provost. If you have any opportunity to seek out his books on writing craft, I highly recommend doing so!
Ready? Let’s go!
THE BASICS: TIME/PLACE
Obviously, every part of a novel unfolds within a concrete/physical environment of some kind—whether it’s on the tip of a dandelion, the supply room in an office building, or the halls of 17th century Versailles.
The way you bring your time period and setting to life—even if the time period and setting are more domestic and contemporary—informs so much of the novel. It helps the reader truly FEEL as though they’ve landed somewhere and are experiencing a world around the characters, one whose details have significance and are placed meaningfully on the page.
Often, though, writers take either a too bare bones or too lavish approach to setting. They either give us a quick inventory of what’s in a room (“A table sat in the center, on top of which was a crystal vase holding daffodils.”) or a too lavish travelogue of every detail from the clouds overhead, to the paint flaking on the columns, to the ants scurrying beneath the feet of the main character.
Often, too, they don’t challenge themselves to set their scenes in the most evocative environments, settling on those domestic arenas that are comfortable to them—the bedroom, the kitchen, the car, and so on.
SO, here are some questions to take you deeper:
- Is this the most compelling time and/or location in which the scene can unfold?
- What is unusual/special about this time and place?
- What about time/place weighs on or buoys the scene’s viewpoint character? (How does it either empower her or rob her of psychic strength?)
- How does the viewpoint character’s interactions with the environment speak to her emotional state?
- What concrete, singular/idiosyncratic details emerge via the viewpoint character’s perspective? In other words, what would only SHE notice?
- If this setting is revisited several times throughout the novel, how is it viewed differently each time by the viewpoint character? How does her progression through the novel CHANGE her relationship with this place?
I’ll leave you to mull those for now. Next week, we’ll tackle VIEWPOINT, INCITING INCIDENT, and GOALS. Hope you’ll join us again!