One Writer’s Journey

March 3, 2016

Scene Structures: The scene and the sequel

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:06 am
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scene and sequelAs I do the research to write my mystery, I’ve been contemplating potential scenes.  What is a scene?  Try to find a definition online and you’re going to feel like you are looking for a unicorn or the Holy Grail.

Simply put, a scene is a unit of story telling.  Part of the reasons that it is so vague and confusing is that there are two types of scenes.  Confusingly enough, one of them is called the Scene.  I know.  It makes you want to beat your head on the desk, doesn’t it?  The other is called the Sequel.

In a Scene, the character tries to accomplish something.  This goal is somehow thwarted.

In a Sequel, the character reacts to having everything go ka-fooey.  Part of the reaction may by physical but part of it is mental because by the next Scene the character needs a new goal.


The Scene is the unit of action.  It is when things happen

The Sequel gives your reader time to reflect and gather herself up before your character gives it another go.

If your character has just discovered that she was betrayed by her best friend or her boyfriend, the Sequel may be pages and pages long.  It may be the same length as the Scene it follows.  If your character is scaling the wall of a building and the rope breaks, the Sequel may consist of only a sentence or two.  Grab the ledge?  Discover her super power?  Splat?

I have to admit that I am much better at writing Scenes than I am at writing Sequels but Sequels are important.  They give the reader a chance to feel and reflect along with your character.  You need this to help build empathy.

A manuscript that is Scene heavy is going to be exhausting to read.  Your reader will have troubles caring about your character because she won’t know your character.  A manuscript that is Sequel heavy may seem to drag.

Take a look at your work-in-progress.  Have you remembered to include Sequels to balance your Scenes?  If not, you might want to give it some serious thought.


February 17, 2016

Stretching it Out: Scenes that Matter Need to Last

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:31 am
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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.


November 14, 2014

Write the wreck

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:00 am
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Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni

My favorite book by Dianne Salerni who recommends that you write your problem scene and use it to learn something more about your story.

Have you ever gotten stuck on your work in progress because you know there are problems with the upcoming scene but you don’t know how to fix them?

Recently I read a post by Dianne Salerni where she recommends writing this place holder scene.  You know it isn’t THE scene that you need to write so it is a placehold until you get things figured out.  She recommends writing this scene because through the act of writing it you will probably work through some of the problems.

I wasn’t sure how seriously I bought into this until I critiqued a chapter for a friend.  Kate is writing a middle grade novel in which a secondary character commits suicide.  She’s mired somewhere in the middle and trying to figure out how to get started again.

Instead of fighting to write a scene that is still nebulous in her mind, she jumped to the climax.  She knows what needs to happen in the climax and this enabled her to start laying out the words.

But a surprising thing happened.  All along, she’s suspected that she needs to add a subplot.  She hadn’t decided what to add or how to do it, but in this scene not only does the main plot climax as the characters find out about the suicide, the subplot also climaxes.  Yep.  She didn’t know exactly what that subplot would be, but now she has it all tied up.  She simply needs to go back to the earlier chapters and lay things into place.

When you’re stuck, pick a scene and start to write.  It might not be the next scene, but if you write you will not only make progress on your word count, you will make progress on the story as your subconscious hands you the solution to your problem.





September 20, 2013

What Every Chapter Must Include

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:07 am
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No matter what type of book you are writing, each and every chapter must move your story forward.  Period.

Generally, my chapters correspond to my scenes.  In each scene, your character attempts to achieve a specific goal.  She may succeed.  Most often she will fail.  Her goal at the end will almost certainly differ from her goal at the beginning.

Did you include all of the essentials in your chapter?

Did you include all of the essentials in your chapter?

Chapters and scenes don’t necessarily coincide.  A chapter is simply an easily digestible piece of story.  It gives your reader a safe place to go get something to drink, go to bed, or walk to dog.  A chapter can break a scene at a suspenseful moment.  It can pull together two brief scenes.  How ever you decide to work it, something has to happen.  It is, after all, a unit of story.

Lately, I’ve read several manuscripts with “empty chapters.”  These chapters may:

  • Establish the relationship between two characters
  • Reveal something about your main character
  • Give the reader the clues needed to solve your mystery
  • Hide these blues amid red-herring.

But because they don’t move the story forward, they can do all of this and more and still drag.

Remember, a chapter is a unit of story.  A story is a character’s attempt to achieve something.  A chapter that doesn’t help this along, is something less than a chapter.


October 18, 2012

Add to Your Tension with Pivot Points

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:42 am
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Your character doesn’t see it in the path ahead, but something is going to change the mood of the scene. (Photo, SueBE at Missouri Botanical Gardens)

Yesterday I wrote about one way to increase the tension in your writing.  Foreshadowing is a technique that allows you to hint at things to come.

Another way to increase the tension is by including a turning point in your scene.  As defined by Sandra Scofield, a turning point is the point at which the mood in your scene shifts.

Think about a scene in your work in progress — your main character has a goal, something she wants to accomplish.  In this particular scene, she is doing X to accomplish this goal.  At some point, something happens and she realizes that her plan is not going to work.  She will not achieve her goal in this scene.

My own work in progress has a variety of pivot points throughout the story.  Some of them involve other people and take place when a parent walks in (busted!) or a school project is ruined by a younger sibling (you brat!).  Other times, things simply don’t go as planned — a spell goes awry and the results are not what my hero expected or when he finds out that he doesn’t have all he needs to do a spell.  Other times someone reveals something and my hero realizes that he isn’t going to get what he wants.

All of the turning points that I’ve managed to identify in my own work and in recent movies that I’ve seen have been reversals.

This has me wondering what you call a turning point that is good news . . . a long lost friend walks through the door, the firemen arrive just in the nick of time.  Is there a different name for this?  Or is it too called a turning point?  Inquiring minds want to know.


July 15, 2010

Some of my work online

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 9:00 pm
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Hi All,

Just a quick note to let you know that my article Creating Scenes: Fiction’s Building Block is up on WOW. This was one of those articles that was good when I handed it in but then the editor asked for some changes — most notably to add some actual quotes to support my points.  There is a reason this newsletter is called WOW, because that’s how much this improved the original article.  I just love a good editor!


Blog at

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