Friday, June 15, 2018

How To Write Great Scenes In Your Story

Way to go! You have your scenes listed in the basic story flow for your novel, and you've laid them out on your Blake Snyder beat sheet. The real story you want to tell is becoming clearer every day.

What I'm about to share with you is an added storytelling bonus. You can use this information however you choose. I personally recommend you put this tool you're about to get for free in your story crafting toolbox and use it whenever you evaluate the scenes or beats of your novel.

This tool is a scene checking utility. Actually, it's a list of four questions, found in Lisa Cron's Story Genius, that you should ask yourself every time you analyze each scene, or scene sequence. At a minimum, you should use it to analyze the five key story beats of your novel, which are...

- Opening Image
- Catalyst
- Magical Midpoint
- All Is Lost
- Final Image

Here are the four questions:
1. What does my protagonist go into the scene believing?
2. Why does she believe it?
3. What is my protagonist's goal in the scene?
4. What does my protagonist expect will happen in this scene?

You can use these questions to evaluate every scene you write, looking for...
- Your heroine's belief or expectation in the scene
- Why she believes what she believes
- What her expectation is upon entering the scene
- Your heroine's goal throughout the whole scene
- What your heroine actually thinks will happen in the scene

The main thing you want to look for in every one of your scenes is some kind of conflict between your protagonist and external/internal forces. You want to make sure that the conflict is there--and the reader knows it.

If no conflict arises in a scene, the story stops dead in its tracks.

The other thing you want to look for in every scene you write is whether or not the conflict in a scene is forcing your protagonist to struggle with her longstanding misbelief on some level. Conflict in a scene means nothing if it doesn't somehow persuade your protagonist to undergo an internal transformation.

Every scene should ultimately change your heroine's heart and mind. Every scene should lead her to finally confront, overcome and defeat her longstanding misbelief, and help her achieve her greatest goal.

To take it a step further, answering the four diagnostic scene questions before you write your scenes will dramatically increase your protagonist's chances of internal change taking place.

Here are some examples of how I answered the questions before writing my protagonist, Sandra Porter's misbelief inciting incident scene for my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse. This is the scene where initially she developed her longstanding misbelief, so I had to make sure I got it right. Otherwise, my whole story might have gone off the rails. 

1. What does Sandra go into the scene believing?
    Sandra enters the scene believing that it will be just another evening of dealing with her drunk father. She hopes that he will just come home, retreat to his recliner and drink until he passes out. It's more peaceful in the house when her father is out cold. 

2. Why does she believe it?
    Sandra believes this will be just another day of enduring "drunk dad" because she endures his verbal insults and grunts every day. Why should this day be any different?

3. What is Sandra's goal in this scene?
    Sandra's goal in this scene is just to get through the evening with most of her heart intact. She hopes he'll already be drunk when he walks into the house. He seems to be quieter on those nights.

4. What does Sandra expect will happen in this scene?
     Sandra expects for her drunk dad to be lucid enough to verbally abuse her during dinner. She expects nothing but more heartache from him.

Brave little Sandra has no idea that on this particular evening, she'll find the courage to put her abuse to an abrupt end. But it will also be an event that will send her into a downward spiral over the next two years.

One main goal in asking these scene questions is to make sure that your protagonist's expectations are not being met, whether for better or worse. Creating situations where your protagonist expects one thing to happen, but something else entirely happens is an important element in writing dramatic scenes.  

And your heroine must have her expectations smashed to pieces in every scene. It keeps her on her toes, and keeps your reader reading. Just make sure the underlying purpose of not meeting her expectations is to aggravate her inner struggle between her story-specific goal and her story-specific misbelief. It also should reinforce the point of the story. Otherwise, who cares if your protagonist's expectations aren't being met.

Remember this handy little rule of thumb:

No conflict, no scene. No scene, no story.

As long as your heroine's expectations aren't being met in every scene, your story will have just the right pacing and momentum to constantly stimulate your reader's interest. Your reader will stay up way past her bedtime to see how your novel ends. 

Happy storytelling,

L. R. Farren
Author of From Bad Girl To Worse 
and The Dangerous Way Home

P. S. - These diagnostic scene questions work best when you use them to dig into your protagonist's backstory.

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