Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Writing THE Scene

THE Scene
In every book, there is a scene that is THE scene. You know, that big moment where something momentous happens. You write along, you anticipate this scene for pages and pages--and you know you'd like to write it extremely well when you get there. It has to sound and be perfect. Right? This big scene is often found near the end of the story, at the climax, but not always.

Examples include:
1. When some major secret is revealed
2. When the danger escalates or reaches an all-time high
3. When two characters realize they're in love, or a tender romance scene
4. When the story takes a surprising twist--a whoa!! turn of events
5. When a new character is introduced (especially if he/she is the romantic interest)
6. When the villain finally gets the protagonist in his/her clutches, mwuah-haha
7. When there's a joyful reunion between two characters who've been apart
8. When one of your characters is severely injured or dies
9. When there's a crucial fight or battle scene
10. When the main character's world dissolves (literally or figuratively, depending on your genre) or becomes much more problematic

Multiple THE Scenes
Books can have more than one THE scene. These are the big moments where any of the above things (or similar things) happen. I personally like to have many scenes like this throughout the novel, to some degree or another, not just near the ending or climax. These are those "ta-DAH!" moments that I often place at the end of a chapter ending for a cliffhanger effect. I think they add spice as well a compelling tension to the story.

How Do You React?
Since we want that THE scene to be so incredibly awesome, to match the intensity and emotion that we want to impart into those words, it's often a very troubling scene to write. We approach this scene with excitement…yet sweaty palms. Fear, and trembling. We can suddenly be seized by an unexplainable urge to catch up on our social networking or color coordinate our linen closets. Or most likely, a mixed-up combination of all of these things. When we finally reach that point in your manuscript, it can feel very surreal!

Tips for Writing THE Scene
1. Know you can always change the scene later and improve it. Rah for revision!
2. I turn OFF my inner editor (more than usual) and write on more of an emotional level. I throw the sentences out there willy nilly, in almost a stream of consciousness way. Usually that makes the rhythm of the passage sound much more natural than if I try to ponder reactions at length, or plot out short vs. long sentences, etc.
3. Similarly, let your adverbs and adjectives flow. Throw a lot of them out there. Really. Then you can go back and pick the strongest adjectives later, and eliminate adverbs by replacing them with more unique (and less Telling) ways to say something.
4. Use music or photos to help get into the mood of the scene.
5. Watch movies or read books with similar dramatic scenes to get ideas about reactions, focus, settings, mood, clothing, visual placements, fight moves, sounds, smells, etc.
6. Choose a time and day where you have a decent block of time and aren't rushed (yeah, I know--easier said than done).
7. Jot down snippets of phrasings, descriptions, and dialogue ahead of time to make the scene less daunting. Put these in a separate file or document for when you need it.
8. Understate rather than overstate the emotions. Often it's more impactful to read of a character who has a few tears or is holding back tears, rather than torrents. An excess of grief, shouting, anxiety, fear, etc. in a scene can backfire and actually induce the opposite--creating a sense of detachment in the reader.
9. Write out a brief outline of the scene first. Nothing complex, just a list of things you want to be sure to accomplish as you write.

How do you feel when you get to THE scene in your book--excited or nervous?
Do you find it difficult to get across the emotion/impact you want in a major scene?
What is THE scene that you're anticipating writing in your own work? Is it one of the examples listed above, or something completely different?


  1. Awesome tips, Carol! I'm definitely bookmarking this one. :)thanks!

  2. Hi Carol. How's the new house going? Any pictures of the inside yet? Or did you already do it and I missed them?

  3. Nice tips, Carol. It's hard to say how I approach THE scene. Like you, I like to sprinkle lots of THE scenes throughout the book. Often I just plug on, until I feel like I'm in a scene that works that way (plot movement, chapter ending, foreshadowing something BIG, etc.), and then try to shape it into a scene with more punch. But actually, my process is a little different for each book. I don't get excited ahead of time. Only afterwards, if I think I've succeeded.

  4. Great post Carol. I often feel like I've nailed the big scene... Until I revise... They usually need a lot of work :0

  5. When it comes to writing The Scene, I suddenly find a cleaning urge or need to exercise :)

    But yes, revision is my best friend. Eventually, I just have to sit and write no matter how horrible the flow. Getting the though down is more important than the perfect phrasing.


  6. I love when I get to the scene! I usually do as you say, block off a good amt of time to write it without interruptions. Even though I know what I want the scene to do or be, it often surprises me that it might change as I write it.

  7. Ooooo,

    I LOVE those "THE SCENE" moments. I am ALWAYS excited by them. LIke you, I sprinkle them throughout the story.

    Such a fun topic today, Carol.

  8. Yep I do all that. Have a song to get me in the mood and always go back to correct LATER. Gotta let the mood flow and stir up emotion first. Fix later. ;)

  9. Great post and a fun topic. A good way to understand the 'Big scene!'


  10. Hey Carol - I love this post! Since I'm in the last stages of revising my WIP (seems like I've been there forever), I have already written the "Big Scene." I really appreciate what you said about a big scene not always being near the climax. While I do have another major scene near the ending, I also have an important scene at the beginning of Act II - the turning point. (A surprising twist, as you mentioned.) Hope all is well in sunny California!

  11. I do #7 a lot! I could never do #10 though... the first draft *is* the outline for me - if I tried just an outline I'd never get the scene written! :-)

  12. I love those scenes. So exciting! I love your advice to not think about editing. Powerful verbs can always be chosen later.

  13. Oddly enough, THE scene is usually the easiest to write because it's the premise of my story. Should be tougher, :) Lucky me!

  14. I LOVE it when I reach THE scene/s! I look forward to writing them the whole way through, and when I finally get there, they're the scenes I usually fly through the fastest. I actually reached one of these scenes today (still in the middle of it) and I've written more than I have in WEEKS!

  15. Looks like we were both thinking about the same topic. This is one of my favorite scenes to write.

  16. Fantastic tips. I love writing The Scene. It's so exciting for me. I usually find that part the easiest to write. Also, my eyes ravenously devour those scenes when I'm revising and editing.

  17. Ah yes, THE scene! It makes me nervous to write it. These are great tips!

  18. Good tips! Yeah, I almost always just write with the internal editor off when I'm doing the first draft. So, THE scenes in the book come out pretty similiar to the rest. They're always fun!

  19. What a great post, Carol. Switching off the inner editor is especially hard sometimes. But I find that the scenes that I write without thinking too much usually end up being the best. Maybe because I pour them right out of my soul.

    I hope you're doing well, Carol. Just stopped by to say hi.


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