Once, I picked up a novel by a new writer and started to read. His scene construction looked fine at first glance: He had a character, in a setting, with a conflict, but the scene lacked luster. I asked him after I read it, “What was the purpose of that scene?” His answer was straightforward: “It helps establish the character.” The next scene had the same problem, and the same answer. So did the third. The fourth had the same problem, but it was beginning to establish a second character. Then the author began new scenes to establish the conflict for the novel, with a long descriptive passage to set up the setting, and so on. Fifty pages into the novel, nothing had yet happened.
This is often a problem with new novelists, or even old novelists who are working on new novels. The author is still discovering his characters, and so he may write little vignettes about them–vignettes that ultimately don’t drive the story forward. In short, the author is still learning the character’s voice, trying to figure out how to get into the character’s head.
If you find yourself writing such a scene, go ahead and do it. Just be aware that in most cases, it doesn’t have a place in your novel.
A real first scene will combine information in such a way as to do several jobs at once. It will create a setting, develop a conflict, and introduce characters at the same time. It will simultaneously set a tone for the novel and drive the story forward toward its inciting incident. The author might consciously use stylistic tricks and resonance in order to widen his audience; he might even use marketing analysis so that he consciously creates desirable emotional effects—such as beats for humor, adventure, and romance. He might set up scenes with parallel structures with an eye toward creating a more powerful storyline.
Every scene that you create needs to do several jobs at once. I hesitate to tell you how many. I typically find that I have a dozen reasons to create a scene the way that I do, but you don’t need to write just like me.
Still, if you find yourself writing in order to “discover” your character or bring a scene to life, you’re probably not really into your story yet. The work that you do might be a valuable exercise–I do such vignettes myself–but it isn’t likely to be in a finished story. Think of it more as doing your warm-up exercises before a ball game. Don’t confuse the warm-ups with the real game.
So a powerful scene is likely to be complex in that it will do several things at once.
Want help preparing for the real game? Check out David Farland’s courses on Teachable, or join Apex to get free access to them.
Happening Soon on Apex
Tonight at 7 pm Mountain Time (9 pm EST)
Every week, Forrest Wolverton holds the Apex Accelerator Program. This program is designed to help motivate writers and help them get past the obstacles in their life to become the best writer they can be. There aren’t very many writing groups out there that have motivational speakers!
Monday at 5:30 pm Mountain Time (7:30 pm EST)
Come join us for Monday evening strategy meetings. We will be working to give authors tools, knowledge, and motivation to create original, best-selling stories and the self-defined successful careers they want. Some weeks, we will focus on high level strategic areas writers need to consider and plan for, and other weeks, we will get down to the details of strategy implementation. Don’t miss out. We meet every week at 5:30 MT. Come strategize!
Monday at 7 pm Mountain Time (9 pm EST)
Dave Chesson is the owner of Kindlepreneur, which makes Publisher’s Rocket and a new product called Atticus that helps writers create novels.
Dave will talk briefly about updates in Atticus since the last time he spoke to us and then he will do a full presentation on Keywords and Categories.