Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Scenes in My Novel are Monotonous

Every novel consists of a series of scenes, one linking to the other in an arc that becomes the story. Dull and clichéd scenes can make even the most interesting plot, a flat read. What are the beginner’s mistakes to avoid when writing scenes for fiction?

How Not to Write Scenes for Fiction

A novel can be compared to a painting, in that it requires contrast in elements (or colours) throughout the creation. Such elements in fiction can be described as action scenes, dialogue, narrative, description, flashbacks, segues, and climaxes. A well-written story ideally should have a smattering of each element in varying proportions throughout the novel to keep the reader engaged. Imagine a novel that contains nothing but blocks of solid descriptive text, page after page and you might get what I mean. So each scene might become more interesting with a constant flux of each element.

How to Create Conflict in Novels

A scene is a single occurrence or happening where conflict (and this is crucial) is present in some way. Conflict need not necessarily mean a brawl or a shouting match, but a discrepancy in character motives, goals or outward appearances. Conflict can be quiet and wordless, or it can indeed be noisy. But every scene must have conflict at its core.

Scene Writing for Novels

Each scene must be crucial to the story. The scene might be conveyed via dialogue or physical action. Juxtaposing contrasting scenes is the key to keeping the reader alert. If one scene is recounted as description, consider opening the next one with dialogue. As the story arc deepens, I tend to laden on the action and dialogue and go sparing on description and back-story.

Make sure each scene is vital to the plot. Look out for scenes that add nothing to the story or that repeats the point of an earlier scene. If we have found out that the librarian has been stealing books earlier in the novel, don’t include a scene later that makes that same revelation.

Don’t include scenes where all characters are in agreement to one another. By all means, make it appear that way, but make it plain that conflict is present in some way.

Ensure dialogue is not chit-chatty or serves the purpose of informing the reader of something in an obvious way. Emphasise character contrasts, in class, background or belief systems. Sometimes, cutting dialogue can create more tension in that it brings out subtext. Subtext is what is unsaid via body language or implication as opposed to what is on the surface. Subtext is great for creating tension within the novel.

Scenes to Cut from the Novel

Don’t be merciful in scene cutting. Don’t get too attached to a favourite scene if it actually adds nothing to the story. Cut scenes if:
  • Its purpose has already been covered earlier in the book.
  • All the characters are in accordance with one another.
  • The scene is contrived or feels stilted.
  • Nothing is actually happening.
  • The scene does not present further questions or deepen the mystery for the reader.
  • It merely serves as ‘purple prose,’ wordy passages that would look more at home in a poetry book.
  • The scene does not up the ante in that achieving a hero’s goal has not been made more difficult, or the mystery seems more unsolvable.
  • The scene contains inane chit-chat.
  • Insufficient tension or at least conflict within.
  • Look out for issues regarding length of scenes. If there is a string of short scenes one following the other, consider inserting a longer scene within. Vary the length of scenes within the novel.
Creative Writing Tips for Drama

Some scenes are necessary to add logic to the passing of time or space to make the story flow. This is the purpose of segues. Without them, the scenes will jar against each other. An example of a Segue is: ‘We arrived at the shopping mall a little past two. I had missed lunch and I was feeling lightheaded.’

Dramatic Fiction Writing for Pace

Remember that a scene need not be as long as the actual event. A climactic scene that describes an event lasting a mere few minutes can be pages long, such as a plummet down a mountain or a collision. The link will take you to a scene that describes a horrific car crash in my novel, Nora. Here, I have used the senses to bring the reader into the situation.

An irrelevant scene that describes a few days passing may consist of a few sentences. Draw out the climaxes, abridge less crucial scenes. Such abridgements give the reader a psychological breather before the next climax. This is known as ‘pace.’

Creating Drama for Novels

Look for opportunities to add contrast and conflict to your scenes. If a scene appears flat, try cutting dialogue to bring out subtext via body language. Could a scene be made more dramatic by combining it with another scene? Could the drama be heightened with a bigger build up? Timing is part of creating drama; delivering the ‘punch line’ too early may kill the effect. Look for ways of bringing more contrast between characters, in motives or beliefs. If they are too much in accordance, widen this difference.

Secrets to Creating Drama in Literature

Scenes that seems to move along in a monotonous fashion probably contains too much of one element and not enough of the others. Take a bigger view to see if there is too much dialogue or descriptive passages in one area. Try contrasting one element against another. Look for idle scenes that add nothing to the story and mercilessly cut them. Look for opportunities to heighten tension by bringing out the subtext via inference. Make character motives more disparate and really milk out those climactic scenes after a suitable buildup. Conflict should be present in some form within every scene within the novel.

Creative Writing Tips for Novels

Developing characters in your novel
Character questionnaire
Great themes for your novel
The perils of passive writing
My novel has died a death
Description of a car crash

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