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.”

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Another Dragon Story is Out

I’m a couple weeks late announcing this here. I apologize!

My short story titled “Dragons in Crisis–Overcoming Neuroses, One Dragon at a Time” has been released with a variety of great fantasy stories and fantasy authors in the second edition of Winter’s Night magazine. You can order a downloadable digital copy or a snazzy print version with fantastic dragon cover art from the lulu site. Richard Bray, the editor, did a lovely job again this year of gathering a nice mix of fantasy spice.

I also posted an edited version of my dragon story on Smashwords, which you can download for free. I’m going to make you work to find that, though. Why? Because I’m a horrid person. (To be honest, I want you to do a search for me on Smashwords to find all kinds of goodies AND I’d rather you support the writing group that Richard Bray leads with the proceeds from the Winter’s Night magazine.)(You can also pick up the first edition, which contains my short story titled “A Legacy Protected.”)

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

Real Life, Writing, and NaNoWriMo

If you’re a writer, you’ve been bombarded with information and “pep talks” concerning National Novel Writing Month, which has just begun. If you’re not a writer, those people in your life who are writers probably look a bit harried right now. They’re seeking peace and refuge so they can get their 1,677 words a day (or whatever the minimum is to hit 50,000 for the month).

I’m not following the daily minimum all that closely because my first week of NaNoWriMo has been rife with life. Yes, the day job required a business trip with air travel and I’ll be headed across the state for a wedding tomorrow. Original plan: I’d type while my date drove. Plan B: my date can’t get out of work after all so I’m driving myself. Now, yes, I am quite adept at writing and driving at the same time, and I’m sure I’ll do this well. But I have a new plan up my sleeve.

I’ve booked a room at the wedding’s resort (because it was actually less expensive than any of the resorts or hotels nearby, if you can believe that) for the night. I have an ocean view with balcony for 21 hours. Factor in Daylight Savings Time issues and I have 22 hours. Factor in late check-out and I can probably eek another hour or two from the hotel proprietor who is stoked to have the tourism business at all.

Yes, I have to take time out to attend the wedding. But, dudes and dudettes, I can walk back to my room, open the computer file, and type like mad.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Get hungry? Room service, please. I don’t have to make any food. I don’t have to clean up the dishes. I don’t have to make the bed in the morning. Heck, if I don’t feel like it, I don’t have to shower in the morning. Just wipe the drool off my computer keyboard and pour everything into the trunk of the car…off we go.

This is going to be a good NaNo weekend. The dragon in me is pleased.

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

Published in: on November 5, 2010 at 8:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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