FROM HEAD TO TOE

HOW TO START AND END A SCENE

Scenes are essential. We know that. No surprises there. But what should a scene be like? What dictates the beginning and the end?

Let’s explore like Dora. By the way, she’s a super cool exploradora.

A scene should begin with setting. Sounds obvious, but a reader longs deeply within her soul to know where your characters are. This could be a detailed description, or it could be a few words like: “he slumped into the floor chair”.

Nice. So now we know he’s in the living room. What should we do after that? Hmmm…what is the purpose of this scene? Let’s look at this.

WATCH:
Jimbo slumped into his floor chair, kicked off his shoes, and turned to ESPN. What a day!

That means nothing to me. I really don’t care about Jimbo’s stinkin’ feet. But. What if we gave the scene a little pretext? What is Jimbo trying to accomplish? Or what has he accomplished. Let’s say he just kicked his girlfriend of eight months out of his house, and she hated, no abhorred, whenever he would take his shoes off in the living room and she utterly despised ESPN!

WATCH:
Jimbo slumped into his floor chair, kicked off his shoes, and turned to ESPN. What a day!

Now everything that he is doing is in open rebellion to the chains that he has just broken out of. The scene begins with this — the rebellion from his exgirlfriend. So what’s his motivation? What do you want to happen? Should it end well? No! There should be tension and decisions that are made in each scene that push you towards your novel’s resolution.

WATCH:
Jimbo slumped into his floor chair, kicked off his shoes, and turned to ESPN. What a day! He was through with her. As he dosed off, he was awakened by his phone. He shook off the sleep and wrestled with his pants to pull it out of his pocket. A text? From who? It was 11:30 at night. He flipped it open, and his heart sputtered at the words: “Can we talk?”

DANGGIT!!!!!! This chick won’t leave him alone! So you have your tension. Now, you can develop the scene. Etc. Etc. Stuff we’ll talk about later this week. But, remember that when you end the scene, you may resolve the immediate conflict, yet another conflict must emerge.

WATCH:
Etc. Etc. Etc. Scene develops — blah, blah, blah.
He dropped the phone on the floor, turned off the tv, and raced his shoes upstairs, placing them neatly in the closet with the laces inside. She was coming over, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted this or not.

BOOM! SCENE CHANGE! Now you have the tension, the frustration. The re-obedience to the assumed tyrant dictator of an ex-girlfriend. That’s sceneology.

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6 thoughts on “FROM HEAD TO TOE

  1. mariathermann

    A text? From whom? (exclaims the German student of English language)

    I tend to write a lot of dialogue (as children expect that in their novels), so I use descriptions of rooms/surroundings as I go along with the dialogue rather than devoting a whole paragraph or whatever to setting a scene. It tends to bore kids to read lots of description.

    “Explain to me again, Willow…how exactly do you kill a vampire?” Darren slumped down on the kitchen bench, but came straight up again, when his bottom made contact with a rather pointy stake. He hurled it into the cat basket and furtively pulled one of Rita’s worsted seating pads under his behind. The cat got up, stretched and returned the stake to the boy. Willow groaned.

    “I guess chopping their heads off might work,” Darren said, absentmindedly taking the stake to scratch a heart into the paper napkin on the dinner table.

    Reply
    1. William Stadler Post author

      Thanks, Maria. Just to be clear. The “From who?” that I wrote was his train of thought, and of course, he would not be thinking in correct English. That said, your comments about intertwining dialogue with scenery are true. It’s important to give the reader enough conversation and setting so that the dialogue doesn’t get stale.

      Thanks again!

      Reply
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