Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Big Scene

There are many reasons for a writer to feel stuck in the middle of writing a novel. I’ve discussed the Wall and the Cul de sac. But a third seemingly insurmountable barrier can be paralysis in the face of writing a Big Scene. There can be any number of important scenes in a novel. But there will be a minimum of three pivotal scenes: a scene that introduces the conflict, a scene that raises the conflict to its highest intensity, and the scene in which the conflict is resolved, either happily or unhappily.

Since the first of these scenes comes in the first chapter, if not in the first pages, it is unlikely to be the primary source of a block. But it’s never wasted time to take another look at the first chapter of a novel. It’s the equivalent of a contract with the reader. It should say: If you continue reading, you will want to continue reading. Are your characters alive? Is the setting convincing? Have you opened up sufficient potential for conflict and challenges for your protagonist? Some writers continue to re-write the first sentence of a novel until they are satisfied that it is as strong as possible. If you are halfway or three quarters of the way through your story, you might discover that you know more about the main characters than you did when you began, and you might want to make adjustments to the first chapter accordingly.

I write Regencies, and it is hard to imagine a Regency without social events such as balls, musicals, dinners, or house parties. These are big scenes in both importance and number of characters, and the prospect of writing one can be daunting. These scenes include multiple conversations and multiple observations of multiple characters and their actions. If tackling this type of big scene has you stymied, take some time to think about each character who will be participating in the scene. Look at each character’s motivation and relationship to the protagonist. What is the relationship of each character to other characters in the scene? How do all of these elements contribute to the dilemma or conflict? The challenge of “show don’t tell” is particularly important in this type of scene. Is Agatha jealous of Henrietta? Rather than just having Agatha cast dagger looks at Henrietta, have Agatha share a juicy tidbit of gossip about Henrietta with Angela, the heroine.  If that bit of gossip also intensifies Angela’s conflict, so much the better!  

Sometimes, a major social event will require a series of important scenes. Think about the sequencing of the scenes in order to maximize the conflict.

In contrast with a social event, which includes a number of characters, some scenes are “big” because they are so intense.  It’s understandable why it’s easy to postpone writing these scenes. It’s a gloomy Monday morning. The dog has just chewed a shoe that you should have remembered to put in the closet. Or, perhaps, you just keep checking your email. Guess what? The longer you postpone writing that scene, the longer the odds are that you will ever find the perfect moment to write it. Do you usually write at a computer? Try writing with pen and paper. Set a timer and write for twenty minutes. You might find that you don’t want to stop writing, even to turn off the buzzer. The important thing is to get the first draft of the Big Scene written. You can worry about revisions later.

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