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Naomi Hughes @NaomiHughesYA
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So I talk a lot about big-picture problems I see as an editor (telling vs. showing, character arcs, villains, etc.), but how about we talk about the micro scale of writing craft for a bit? *pulls out megaphone* TIME FOR A THREAD ON SCENE CRAFT!
When I was a new writer I'd never heard of scene craft, but when I learned how to apply it, boy howdy did my stories LEVEL THE HECK UP. Have you ever read a scene where nothing particularly Big happened, but you were still riveted as a reader? That's good scene craft.
Scene craft is all about keeping the reader hooked on the micro level of the story. There are a lot of elements that can go into creating strong scene craft (depending on the type of scene), but let's chat about some basics.
The main problem I see at the scene level as an editor is the lack of a goal for the POV character. I also see a lot of not-personal-enough motivations, & reactive POV characters (ie, one who mostly reacts to external events rather than taking proactive steps toward their goal).
Writing hack: approach each scene as a mini-story, using the same basic formula as you do for the Big Plot. The POV character swoops in with a goal, taking active steps to attain it. They are stymied by an Opposing Force, which creates conflict & tension (which readers eat up!).
The types of scene conflicts you can use are many and varied! You can have 2 characters with conflicting goals. A character trying to obtain info without tipping off the other party. A hero stealing something. A heroine conning someone. A romantic conflict. An internal conflict.
As important as crafting each individual scene is making sure the connection BETWEEN scenes is so tight and seamless that readers have no OPTION but to keep reading because there is no good "breaking point."
Vital to a strong connection between scenes (which keeps readers hooked, tension high, & pacing tight):
-A "hook" at the end of the scene/chapter
-The but/therefore rule
End-of-scene hooks can be pretty much anything that entices a reader to keep reading. Most commonly known are the plot twist cliffhangers, which can work great--unless you use them TOO often, or get gimmicky (ie, the cliffhanger is instantly & easily resolved in next chapter).
An end-of-scene "hook" can be:
-A subtle, foreshadow-y note of looming conflict
-Character being required to make an unexpected but immediately important decision
-Cliffhanger/plot twist
-A plot-relevant revelation
-Awesome writing that makes the reader desperate for more NOW
The but/therefore rule says that each scene should connect to the next with "but" or "therefore," NOT "and then." But/therefore indicates a strong chain of cause-and-effect/action-and-consequence. And thens = sequence of loosely related events, aka zero tension & bored readers.
The but/therefore rule is one of my all-time favorite writing tips, which I heard from the writers of South Park. aerogrammestudio.com/2014/03/06/wri…
Other tips on scene craft:
-Try to have more than 1 small-scale conflict happening in each scene
-Use the setting more. Have it affect the scene's outcome & interact with the conflict
-Every scene should create relevant change for at least 1 of the story's main conflicts
One last note on scene craft: in a multiple-POV story, it can be hard to know which character should have which scene. Rule of thumb--whoever has the most at stake for that moment and/or is changed the most by that scene should be the POV.
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