Posted in Misc Topic

Anatomy of a Scene


One of the easiest and most difficult aspects of creating a work of fiction is writing dialogue. Dialogue can be subtle, memorable, dramatic, and forceful, and is one of the most versatile craft elements. But if not done well it can be stiff, stilted, and cheesy.

Note that dialogue is a conversation between two or more characters. Monologue is a long speech by a single actor (in a play or movie), and internal monologue is the inner voice or thoughts of a character. Most fiction uses dialogue and internal monologue, but not monologue.

You can use dialogue to pick up the pace of a dull scene, or when you want to move toward action. Dialogue is also great for creating conflict because you can pit one character against another. Well-crafted dialogue is a scene stealer.

Bad dialogue is a scene killer.

Don’t use dialogue as space filler. Don’t make your characters speak to take up space because you don’t know what is happening in your scene. If you do this your dialogue will come off as stiff, stilted, and cheesy.

Dialogue in a scene can do a few things:

  • Convey action
  • Reveal character
  • Reveal plot
  • Reveal backstory

You can use dialogue to open a scene, but if you start your scene in the middle of the conversation be sure to write it so that your reader isn’t confused having missed the earlier conversation.

  • Be sure to set your scene so your reader knows what is happening before the conversation starts
  • Be clear on who is speaking to whom so as not to confuse your reader
  • Mix action with dialogue so that you don’t have talking heads
  • Use conflict or opposition in your dialogue so that the conversation is dynamic

When you use dialogue be sure that the conversation happening on the page is important and moves the story forward. Your characters should be speaking for some purpose. Two characters chatting about the weather most likely won’t work for any foreseeable reason, and if you find your characters blathering on about unimportant things that have nothing to do with the story, save them from themselves and delete the conversation. All of it. It’s boring and pointless.

And you know I don’t want your writing to be boring and pointless.

Next time more on dialogue in scenes.

Posted in Misc Topic

Writing Process

My finished novel is with my editor. Yes, I know I’m an editor, but I have this firm belief that you should never edit your own work because you can’t see your own shortcomings. Meanwhile,  it’s time to begin working on the next book in the series. I thought I might blog periodically about my writing process. Hopefully it will be helpful to someone. Hopefully it will be inspiring to someone. Hopefully it won’t all come to shit. If it does come to shit, hopefully it will at least be a glorious pile of shit. Ahh. The glories of risk taking.

I decided to work in Scrivener this time around. I have dabbled in it before for outlining but I decided to try it exclusively for this next book. I like the cork board visual and the ease at which you can edit and move chapters and scenes around. There is a bit of a learning curve to using Scrivener, but there are tons of YouTube videos available. Scrivener is also inexpensive, and allows you a free trial to test it out. Note that I don’t get any kickbacks from the Scrivener folks. I just happen to like it.

First things first. I spent some time thinking about my story premise and kicked ideas around with my critique partner. If you don’t have a critique partner or critique group, let me recommend that you find one. Google critique groups in your city and join one. Not only will it help you get into a writing community, but you will learn a great deal about writing craft over time, and you will have a like-minded individual or two to kick ideas around with. Do take some time to find the right group for you. Each group is different and you will need to find a good fit.

My critique partner shot down the ideas I had initially. They were too normal and not particularly dynamic for my story concept. Since my main character is not normal (I am writing urban fantasy at the moment), the premise was too mundane. While driving I settled on “If you follow your passion you will find your purpose,” which I thought worked with where my character left off the end of the last book. While sitting at a stop light I texted my new premise idea and three-sentence outline to my critique partner, which he accepted as a good one.

I opened Scrivener and created a new book file. The first thing I did was write my premise in the notes. Having a premise helps you to focus on what your book is about. As you write pages with your premise in mind, you will end up infusing your pages with meaning, which is good for your readers

Good. 1st step done.

Then I set up an initial ten chapter template (see image) to begin outlining the new story. This ten chapter starting point is stolen from Writer’s Little Helper by Jim Smith, and for me, it’s a great way to begin plotting. I find the guideposts helpful to ensure a cohesive story line. Note that I don’t get any kickbacks from Jim for recommending his book. I just happen to like it.


My next step is to work out the opening scene, then the climax, and then the ending scene. After I get through that, I will add twists and complications and sub plots and such. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Posted in Misc Topic

Anatomy of a Scene


Writing Pensive Scenes

This week we are continuing our exploration into writing scenes by looking at pensive scenes, or those scenes that explore the thoughts and feelings of our characters. These are not action scenes by any means. In fact pensive scenes slow the pacing of the story significantly, so they are used sparingly. We don’t want our stories to drag.

Pensive scenes allow your reader to see your character’s interior self. There may be thoughts (internal monologue), and moments which allow your character to digest actions, and events, and twists that have changed their course of action earlier in the story.

Pensive scenes also allow your reader to catch their breath after a series of action filled sequences of events. Note that pensive scenes are rarely ever used to open a novel. They also tend to show up later in the plot line.

So what makes a pensive scene?

  • Your character spends more time thinking than acting or speaking
  • Pensive scenes reveal something to the reader about your character’s frame of mind
  • Pensive scenes must have some bearing on the plot. If they don’t, then cut them Each and every scene must move the story forward or it should not be in the book

Be sure to use scene setting to ground your reader in space and time when you are writing a pensive scene. You want your reader to know where our character is as they have this internal time. You can use the setting also as a way to convey the mood and meaning for your character’s thoughts and emotions. You might also start the scene in transition between the heart-pounding action of the earlier scene to help move your reader to a quieter moment of your character’s thoughts. Let your reader gear down rather than making them stop on a dime as it were.

Remember that the purpose of the pensive scene is to give your reader some intimacy with your character as your character experiences their inner thoughts.

  • Give your character realistic responses to earlier events
  • Make sure that your character wrestles with some issue in the previous scene or series of scenes
  • Have your character come up with a plan of action to move them toward their goal
  • Show your character’s internal conflict
  • Include some element of danger for your character to think about
  • Add tension through your character’s surroundings
  • Use mood and ambiance

When writing your pensive scene, it is still important that the story move forward.

  • Can you end this introspective scene with a cliffhanger so that your reader will continue to turn the page?
  • Can your character come to a moment of decision that changes the direction of the plot?
  • Is there some surprise that pops up? Your story still needs twists and turns to interest your reader, even in quiet scenes.

Remember that pensive scenes should be used sparingly in your novel, but they can be a great way to create intimacy between your character and your reader. They slow the pace but if you end with some special twist your reader will be intrigued.

Come see!

I have been invited to speak at PubCon on April 29th in Denver. I’d love to see you there if you can make it.

Black and White Cat
Posted in Fiction Writing

Anatomy of a Scene

Writing Dramatic Scenes

Last time we discussed the elements necessary for writing suspenseful scenes, and why that was important. This week I thought we would focus on a particular type of scene, specifically the dramatic scene.

The dramatic scene allows your characters to deliver a wide array of emotions, and can allow you to use emotions to move your story forward. These emotions include everything to gratitude to tantrums and are written in a way that will emotionally affect the reader.

The dramatic scene can be written around a fight, a betrayal, obsession over an object or another character, or any other concept of high emotion. The goal of the dramatic scene is to move your characters toward change. Your character will be forced to make decisions based on the complications which arise from the emotional content presented in the scene, and this decision will force your character to go a different direction than they previously intended. Note that dramatic scenes tend to show up toward the middle and end of novels rather than in the first act.

Start the scene with a slower pace. Be sure to include all the necessary scene setting your reader will need to ground themselves in space and time. Then use dialogue, action, and high emotional content to speed up the pace of the scene until the climax of the scene. Then allow your character a moment of reflection and decision making, so they can move forward in a different direction.

  • Use the relationships of your characters to bring them closer together or the break them apart
  • Use your character’s actions to support inner conflict
  • Use both hot (passion, rage) and cold (shock, internal grief) emotions to direct the drama and draw the reader in.
  • Use foreboding
  • Use interaction with other characters
  • Use confrontation, threat of death (or harm), or ruined expectations
  • Do NOT use exposition which is boring and NOT dramatic
  • Do not write your scene with hysterics or unrealistic action or you will move into melodrama (not a good thing)

Remember that dramatic scenes should focus on the character’s feelings so they will reach an emotional climax which then forces your character to change, either through epiphany or contemplation.

The added dramatic scene will entice your reader to turn the page and also help your character move forward to the end.