Anatomy of a Scene: Setting Intentions

Anatomy of a Scene: Setting Intentions
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As a writer and editor, Susan is all too familiar with both sides of the publishing world. Since 2009, Susan Brooks has served on the board of directors for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a nonprofit educational organization supporting both published and aspiring writers of commercial fiction. She holds a masters degree in publishing from George Washington University and is Editor in Chief at Literary Wanderlust, a small traditional press located in Denver,  Colorado.

Susan is an editor with many years of experience and occasionally takes on freelance projects. Recent editorial projects include The Homeplace by Kevin Wolf, and The Rampart Guards: Chronicle One in the Adventures of Jason Lex, by Wendy Terrien.

She tweets once in a while and you can follow her as @oosuzieq on Twitter.

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Setting Intentions

We are continuing our exploration of writing scenes, which includes all the elements that should be in a scene for it to be a successful piece of writing. The ultimate goal of outlining and writing your novel using scenes is that you will complete it with a minimum of wasted time and effort.

This week I thought we would focus on intentions for our scenes. Remember that a scene is a specific place where continuous action occurs in the novel. You can have a scene that encompasses an entire chapter or multiple scenes in each chapter. I prefer the latter option.

A scene should have a beginning, a middle, and an ending which ideally includes some hook to cause the reader to turn the page. Your scene should be set up properly with enough visual clues to allow your reader to see the events of the scene in their mind’s eye. Each scene should include some of the five senses to help your reader become emotionally involved with your characters, and each scene should have enough tension to keep the reader enticed in the story.

Before you write your scene, think about what it is that your protagonist wants. What does your character need? This is important. The character must have an intention when they enter the scene. It could be your character wants to escape from a killer. It could be that your character wants to ask someone for a date. As the author, you should decide whether or not your character will achieve their intention before the end of the scene, or if they will fail. Regardless of failure or success, your character should encounter complications that put a wrinkle in their plans. It is these complications that will build suspense for your reader.

“As the author, it’s your job not to make things too easy for your character.”

Say for example your character wants to ask someone for a date. They are in a coffee shop and they see the person of their dreams across the room. They get up to approach their dear intended, but they spill their coffee all down their front. Now they must detour to the bathroom and clean themselves up. Your character has failed on the first try. After blotting their shirt with a wad of paper towels they go back to ask their intended for a date. But now, their love interest has a guest at their table. Drats. Oh, wait. It’s your character’s side-kick who always wants to help. Well, that’s good. Except, your sidekick always messes things up for your character. Oh, no. Your character’s love interest jumps up from the table and runs out of the coffee shop. It’s a clear failure.

As the author, it’s your job not to make things too easy for your character. You should know before you write when and where your character will succeed or fail, and when they will encounter complications. Note that you do have to let your character succeed sometimes. Just be sure they don’t succeed all the time.

As you are outlining your new scene you have to make sure that the scene and the scene intention makes sense to your plot. If your story is about monkeys in space, it is unlikely that a scene on dating would be appropriate. Maybe you want to explore what a monkey date would be like. A monkey walks into a bar…but don’t do it unless it truly works for your plot. This tangent would be a waste of your writing time.

When you outline your scene intentions think about who will oppose your character’s goal(s). Is there another person in your character arsenal whose sole motivation is to thwart your protagonist at every opportunity? Should your villain be in the scene? Or is there another person whose sole purpose is to help your character achieve their goals? Yes, this side-kick can help your character, but not so easily, and not too soon. And it may be that this side-kick intends to help your protagonist but their assistance always goes amiss, just as in the coffee date scene above.

Regardless, be sure to make sure that each and every scene in your novel is there for a reason, and the reason is to move the story forward to the end. Don’t waste time.

Remember, there are no dating monkeys in space.

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