Ready for another wee editing session? Yeah? Awes-some.
While we don’t use clapperboards in fiction writing, when editing scenes, we certainly end up with several “takes”.
To quickly sum up a scene: it’s basically an act, a passage that reveals events and actions as they occur. Readers “see” what’s transpiring as it happens. They connect to the characters; they feel for the characters.
scene = action and reaction = plot purpose
You can have faultlessly correct scenes—the grammar is perfect and the details are descriptive—but how do they read? Do they pull readers into the plot and action? Or do they have a snoozzzze effect?
Cordially yet coolly, Terry and Lester greeted the guests in the great hallway. The fifty-something twins bore little resemblance to each other: the former was lanky, the latter fleshy. I found them indifferent, distant, and sensed this long weekend at the chateau would be more than out of the ordinary. A frisson quavered down my neck and shoulders.
Maybe this is more effective (you judge)?
“Welcome to Chateau Cormier. We hope you enjoy your stay,” Lester said coolly with a slight bow, his egg-white face tense.
Terry, a lanky version of his fleshy twin, flourished a long slender arm. His tone, too, leaned toward stony. “Please make yourselves comfortable in the main dining room.”
A frisson quavered down my neck and shoulders. A gut feeling suggested this long weekend would extend beyond the ordinary. “Could I bring my bags to my room instead of leaving them in the foyer?” I asked with forced cordiality. No one had greeted us at the door, or seen to our needs, so I assumed we’d be fending for ourselves.
It’s better to show and not tell. The second example has more “life”, whereas the first one tends to be a little flat. You want to yank those readers in and hold onto them, so steer clear of excessive narration. Get them involved; sustain interest.
Scenes also contain action, but often that action is dialog. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but you don’t want to be overly excessive in the chat/chatter department, either. If the intent is to have a dialog-filled scene, add action here and there. Why? It gives readers insight (imagery, visualization) into what characters are doing and/or where they are.
Scenes usually have locations and settings (to be discussed in another post), which further add to the visualization component. They enable readers to picture surroundings and backdrops; in essence, they add another dimension.
“It’s a nice watch.” John held the gold watch up to the light to better view it.
“It’s a stunning watch.” Standing by a tall window in the cluttered Boston antique shop, John studied the gold 18th-century timepiece.
Some genres, such as sci-fi and historical fiction, require more explanation than others. Descriptions of events and settings are vital, given the landscapes. This, however, could be accomplished through the addition of scenes as opposed to straight [endless] narration.
Give thought to the characters in a scene: are they important enough to warrant one? Or can the details of their actions/storyline be summarized in a short narrative (summation)—through the narrator or another character?
And what about feelings and emotions in scenes? They’re important, too. They’ll give readers insight into what makes characters tick, and play the deciding factor in whether readers will dislike or like (root for) them. Provide these through actions and reactions rather than simply stating (telling).
When you’re editing scenes:
⇒ give thought as to the aim of the scene (has it been successfully conveyed)
⇒ consider how revision will affect later scenes (ensure adjustments tie up loose ends)
⇒ make certain there are enough of them (not just narrative summations and/or copious amounts of dialog)
⇒ confirm that they differ in length, actions and reactions, conflict and friction, and dialog arrangements
⇒ check that settings and locations aren’t repetitious in details/descriptions; previous posts, variety is the spice of life—and fiction
⇒ make sure that they flow logically (rework them if they don’t).
After an edit, ask yourself if scenes:
⇒ engage readers
⇒ are strong/dynamic
⇒ paint [pretty/realistic] pictures
⇒ smack of energy/excitement?
If any scenes prove as limp as yesterday’s tuna-salad sandwich, there’s only one thing to do: snip, snip, snip.
Next post, let’s carry on with a similar theme: settings.