Stretching it Out: Scenes that Matter Need to Last

weightIf the scene that you are writing carries great weight in your book, it needs to last.  Whether it is a battle scene, a character’s death or a moment of brutal realization, it needs to take up space.

Unfortunately, these scenes are hard to write, because this is where we literally torture our darlings.  These are the scenes during which we torment our characters.

I just read The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow.  It is a postapocalyptic novel set in a world that has exhausted its resources.  Access to resources, specifically water, is why most wars are fought in this particular version of future Earth.  The problem with this is that in order to rule, a king, queen or president must surrender a child.  If their country is involved in a war, this child will be put to death.  It is the rule of Talis, an artificial intelligence that used to be human and sees this as the only way to save humanity.


If you are still reading this, I’m going to assume that you don’t mind a bit of a spoiler.  Our main character, Greta, knows that her mother loves her and firmly believes that her mother will avoid war at all costs to keep Greta alive and well.  When the school where she is held is taken by a hostile force, a television feed is set up.  Greta will be tortured on live television to force her mother gives up water rights to a neighboring country.

Greta realizes that her mother saw this moment coming.  Okay, maybe not televised torture but definitely the war.  She saw the war coming but refused to give up the water rights.  Yes, war will mean Greta’s death, but losing the water will mean her people’s death. She will not give it up no matter how dreadful the torture is.

Greta’s hands and arms will be crushed in a stone apple press.  It takes over 10 pages to happen.

That’s right.  Ten pages.

Bow takes the reader through Greta being tied in place.  We feel each shift and shudder of the press as the stone drops bit by bit.  We feel her throw back her head when it brushes her hair.  We follow the thoughts and emotions as she realizes that her mother cannot/will not save her.  And then the press finally makes contact with her hands.

Bow draws out the tension and the horror because this is, disgustingly enough, a turning point.  This is when Greta begins to realize what it is to be queen.  It is brutal but it is also powerful.

Check out your own novel in progress.  How long is your turning point scene?  How many pages does it take to put your character through hell?  It won’t be an easy scene to write, but give it the weight it needs to bring your reader, as well as your character, to her knees.