Setting Up Your Scene
(I am re-posting this helpful information with updated links #amwriting )
When Writing A Novel or Short Story there are 4 steps and MANY questions needed to be answered in order to place the characters in the environment you create.
The scene attains the GOAL that you want to unfold. Setting up the scene properly can help YOU create a great story. It all begins with a vision and a lot of questions.
1. What needs to happen in this scene?
Remove the focus from the character’s wants – Instead focus the goal of any scene and what needs to happen to keep the scene active instead of boring.
- Ask yourself if this scene is even necessary to understand the entire work – if it is not needed then save yourself time and don’t write it, spend your time on relevant scenes.
- Ask which characters need to be in the scene. Don’t spend time on irrelevant characters.
- Ask where – The most obvious setting for a scene is generally the least interesting, so don’t be hasty to set the scene in the every day police bullpen, a living room, or a parking garage. Always consider what the characters could be doing, even if it’s not directly related to the focus of the scene. Think of creative setting options that are plausible for your character.
2. What’s the most surprising thing that could happen in the scene?
Give yourself permission to step away from your outline and consider wild possibilities. Use your most creative voice to write something different, putting yourself out of your comfort zone for a moment. You may end up with something that will improve your entire work. Sometimes this won’t work, but always consider all possibilities of unusual places to stir things up.
3. Consider the scene’s length.
The classic advice is to begin a scene as late as possible.
Kurt Vonnegut had said, “Begin in the middle.”
This works well to keep the frivolous out from the writing. Think of various possibilities for the screen in your head. Eventually, you will hear the characters talk to each other, and their vague motions become distinct actions. (Yes, others in the room may think you’re crazy when you ask them questions about why they are doing this or that, but hey, you’re a writer and we’re supposed to talk to our characters even if they’re invisible) Don’t rush this early visual step – it really helps. Let the scene evolve and immerse yourself as fully into the moment as you can.
4. Write the draft, then rewrite with the added details.
Write your draft as fast as possible to keep your creative flow going. Then go back and write the scene with added details after listening to the character’s voices. Use the questions listed below to add the details needed for the scene’s depth; omit the hings that are only distractions. Trust your gut.
Create a scene that a reader can easily visualize by focusing on character interactions, character movement and the environment.
If you omit key details that are important to the characters, then the dialogue will decrease in the scene’s overall impact. The characters need to be grounded with the surroundings, don’t leave too much to their readers’ imaginations or they will get lost. However, you should avoid giving frivolous detail. This can get tricky, finding the middle ground.
Add depth into your scene by answering as many of the questions below that are appropriate to your scene & setting, and use only the prompts that will add relevance to your scene GOAL or adds to the overall color of your work.
Here are some basic questions to ask whenever putting characters into a new scene:
Placing the Characters Into the Scene: Where are the characters?
- Where does the scene take place?
- What do the immediate surroundings look like?
- What is happening in the surroundings?
- What time of day is it?
- What do they see?
In most situations the characters are moving and interacting with their surroundings. The reader wants to see their placement in the scene, and it’s essential for a reader to create a good mental image. The characters also move within the space and between the scenes. Move the characters smoothly for the reader, transition them so the reader can visualize the movements of a character(s).
- What are the characters doing?
- Where are the characters standing, sitting, pacing?
- What are they physically doing at this moment?
- Do they display nervous habits and movements?
- What are the characters saying, or not saying?
- What are they remembering?
- What can they smell?
- What do those smells remind them of?
- Can your characters taste anything?
- Any distractions heard within the room, like a record playing or soda fizzing?
When are the characters moving?
Can you intensify the scene with meaningful similes or personification? Characters fidget and move constantly. No one stands (or sits) completely still for long. Even phone scenes may have brief quiet moments when someone fidgets or taps their foot. Keep this in mind whenever the characters are talking or in a quiet moment. Keeping characters securely placed in the scene will assist the reader in visualizing the characters a realistic manner. Movements can be used to understand the character’s motivations as well. Their reactions to various stimuli (smells, light, and noise) tell the reader who the character is and reveals what is important to them. A character who wrings their hands may show that character is nervous or anxious. The timing of any response or movement is important. They jump after a loud noise – not before.
- How does the POV character feel emotionally?
- What do they feel physically?
- What do the characters hear?
- What do those sounds remind them of?
- What do their voices sound like?
- What do the characters facial expressions look like?
- When do they respond with movement of expressions?
Give relevant details and hold on to them throughout a scene so the reader can visualize the story. Remember to stay in one character’s POV in a scene and avoid jumping around from head to head. There may be some authors who get away with this, but an indie author will be criticized for ‘head hopping’. Whenever you do need to change the POV give the reader notice that the scene has changed using spaced lines or a break marker.
What is the conflict in this scene?
- How does the scene’s conflict reflect the overall conflict of the story?
- What do your characters want at this moment?
- Is there an argument? Is it physical or tongue lashing?
- Is the tension unspoken – given away only by gestures, etc.?
- Are there any opportunities to foreshadow future events in this scene?
- How do your overall themes connect to this scene?
Create An Environment To React & Interact With:
What is happening in the surroundings?
Visit or visualize the setting you chose. For example, think of a coffee shop, a park,or a street corner, or even an empty room. Things are happening. Either other people are milling about on the street or there are sounds coming from somewhere in the empty room, like floorboards squeaking, or clocks ticking. People are twitching, moving and interacting with their environment all the time, and every detail that’s worth mentioning should be mentioned.
Take every opportunity to paint a realistic, detailed scene by incorporating the surroundings to make it easier for readers to visualize.
What do the sounds tell the reader about the scene? Example – car noise indicates the setting is near a highway, or a train chugging means a railway stop is near, etc. This can add drama – say if your character is afraid of missing a train. Even moments of silence between characters have sound, like a clock ticking. That sound could add tension in a quiet scene, showing the quiet moment’s length by the ticks.
When should a writer mention various sounds or other movement in the surrounding?
Only when it is needed to add tension or it is involved or adds to the feel of the story or describes the character somehow. Movement like a dive to divert away from a boulder can be critical to the scene. Small nervous gestures can show part of the character’s personality. Use all wisely but remain creative.
The difference between a bad scene and a great scene is the difference between being in a room and being in a pub. Greatness is in the details, and writers who keep this in mind while they write will have the advantage to creating something exciting. Fresh realism.
Keep reading – Keep writing!
Need help with sexual scenes? I know I do ( we should write true to a character’s individualism) – many have difficulty writing these, here are some tips I found helpful.
From Dianan Gabaldon author of Outlanderhttp://www.dianagabaldon.com/2012/07/how-to-write-sex-scenes/
from Writers Write http://writerswrite.co.za/writing-sex-scenes
Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/g-doucette/how-to-write-a-good-sex-s_b_4957087.html
from Writer’s Relief http://writersrelief.com/blog/2011/10/writing-sex-scenes/
from The Editor’s blog http://theeditorsblog.net/2011/03/03/sex-in-fiction-do-they-or-dont-they/
From The Creative Penn http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2011/09/07/write-fight-scenes-alan-baxter/
How To Write Fight Scenes With Alan Baxter
Classic words of wisdom from Kurt Vonnegut:
Bonus – Audio book – Kurt Vonnegut reads Slaughterhouse-Five part one
Extra reading resources on the topic:
Shawn Coyne – The Story Grid http://www.storygrid.com/genres-have-conventions-and-obligatory-scenes/
from Creative Writing Wikia http://creativewriting.wikia.com/wiki/Fiction/Scene
from Story In literary Fiction http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/essays-on-writing/writing-in-scene/
from Writers Digest http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/scene-length-short-scenes-versus-long-scenes
Great resource. Elisabeth-thanks 🙂
Great tips. Thanks for sharing!