My Writing Process 9: Scene Construction

Okay, so here’s one I get asked a lot: how do you construct a scene so that it has good energy. So that it pops, and seems like it’s coming off the page at you.

First off, I don’t think there’s any one way. In fact, I’m damn sure there’s no one way. But the way I learned has served me well, and I’m happy to pass it along:

Begin after the scene has began, and end before the scene has ended.

That sounds confusing and trite, but it works. Basically starting scenes in medias res (or in the middle of the action, for you English-speakers) makes it more interesting and more dynamic. It pulls the reader in an eliminates the painful exposition that often punctuates a scene.

An example:

Xander entered the room through the door against the North wall. Julie had been waiting for him, standing by the window and looking out upon the trees surrounding her house. Her room was small and pink, and he always felt comfortable in it. Mike had told him once that it was his maternal complex, but he’d ignored it.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” she said, stroking her arms with her hands.
He looked hurt, although she didn’t see. “You knew I would.”
She spun around, her eyes hot with the anger he’d come to associate with the women of the Peterson family. “You’ve got some nerve. All the times that you’ve let me down, and you have the balls to say that! F*** you!”
He ignored her, stepping forward and placing his hands on the clammy flesh of her arms.
She glared at him at first, then softened.
He held her there until she was calm, then they both walked downstairs together.

Okay, that’s a decent scene (that doesn’t really fit anywhere in the series by the way, for anyone trying to figure it out). But let’s cut away the exposition at the beginning and the end:

“I didn’t think you’d come,” Julie said, stroking her arms with her hands.
Xander looked at het with hurt, although she didn’t see. “You knew I would.”
She spun around, her eyes hot with the anger he’d come to associate with the women of the Peterson family. “You’ve got some nerve. All the times that you’ve let me down, and you have the balls to say that! F*** you!”
He ignored her, stepping forward and placing his hands on the clammy flesh of her arms.
She glared at him at first, then softened.

See? There’s energy there. There’s still flaws. We miss that description of the setting and the jab that Mike made at Xander, but the fight is stronger. So you have to look at it both ways and decide which way fits your theme and tone better. Was the point the mood created by the description? Or is it about Xander and Julie’s relationship? These are choices that can be made during editing, but eventually it becomes a part of your writing habits.

Now, this is a short scene on purpose. Had this been for a story it would have been much longer. Also, I have no idea what they’re talking about… Hard to make two characters fight without context… Though if anyone could do it, Julie and Xander could.

Hope this helps.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

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