How to Write Scenes that Keep Readers Up All Night

By Your Blog Owner and Dragon Writer, Sandy Lender

Every writer experiences some moment during his or her manuscript when he or she stares at the computer screen and wonders, “Oh my God, how can I fix this crap?” I think the number of these moments increases as a deadline for an editor nears. Something that helps writers is to take individual scenes apart from their start to finish. Treat each scene as a mini-book.

The mini-book/scene requires a start, middle, and “end”; a hook and a climax; a completed purpose, no matter how trite the purpose may seem; and a clear goal for the character who stars in the scene. Here are some tips to help you check your scenes to be sure they pass the mini-book test.

Bob Gelinas at ArcheBooks Publishing recommends every book have at least three to five “big” scenes that stun and impress the reader. He’s talking about the kind of scenes upon which the reader dwells long after he or she has finished the book and is standing in the grocery store line recommending your book to the cashier—and anyone else who’ll listen.

I challenge you to make every scene at least healthy and effective, if not Hollywood-memorable. Make sure each scene has a purpose that furthers the story and gives the reader more information than he or she had before the scene began. You want to be sure the character’s goal (the purpose) is clear, but fraught with some level of tension or conflict.

As an example, in Problems on Eldora Prime, available everywhere, the crew of the Instigator has a simple goal in the second half of chapter six: stack crates against the cargo bay door to keep zombie-like monsters out. That’s it. Simple. The conflict hampering their progress is their awe/confusion and arguing over the dragons in the cargo hold with them.

By the time the MC has gone through the scene, the reader has a better understanding of the dragons in the story, and is ready to turn the page to see if Khiry will release the beasts or not. That’s right: end the scene on a cliffhanger.

The last thing you want to do is tie up a scene all nice and pretty with a bow. If a reader finishes a scene with a contented sigh and a smile, he or she will likely close the book (or set down the eReader) and turn off the light. Will she pick it back up the next day? There may be something else on her reading list…

Keep character traits in mind when producing the memorable scene. Each of your characters has personality traits and motivations to which you want to remain true. If Kor, the marksman from the Instigator in Problems on Eldora Prime, were to lag behind the group on the way to what they hope is a safehaven on Eldora Prime, dragging his gun in the dirt and ignoring his surroundings while others take on the responsibility of guarding the crew, the reader would wonder what had happened to him. It’s his job and his prerogative to support his leader and protect his crew. If you have a strong character, beware of giving him or her “weak” phases. If you have a weak character, beware of how quickly you advance him or her through an arc toward strength.

If you find yourself facing an “Oh my God, how can I fix this crap?” moment, consider a complete rewrite of the scene in question. Don’t be afraid of the delete button. Maybe the scene needs to be shown from a different character’s point of view. Maybe it needs a new purpose. Maybe it needs a rush of adrenaline or a hint of humor. Maybe it needs an explosion or two to make it one of the three to five unforgettable scenes that your reader will tell fellow grocery shoppers about.

If your current scene fails the mini-book test or doesn’t “work” for you on some other level, invest the time to rewrite with these tips for memorable and successful scenes in mind. When you view the scene through one character’s eyes and with one goal in mind, you set yourself up for best success. Build on that with tension, conflict, consistent character traits, a cliffhanger ending, and more to give the reader a scene that makes him or her turn the page, eager for more.

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”