Image by DonkeyHotey/Flickr CC
Today I have another post from that kick@$$ writing teacher I’ve taken hostage *slides food through the slit in wall*. Actually, Alex Limberg is a friend of mine and total rockstar and seriously, check out his free ebook about “44 Key Questions” to test your story; it will help you make your scenes tight and compelling and detect any story problem you might have. Today, Alex is showing us a very interesting recipe to keep every single part of your story interesting. Frees me up to continue working out my plan for global domination.
Take it away, Alex!
Uh-oh! It’s showdown time.
In your heart-stopping thriller piece, Tinky the milkman has just found out who poisoned Lady Chatterbee’s canary. Now he is driving to the ash grove for the faceoff in the old mill.
Your scene before and your scene after are sweat-inducing, ear-wringing, eye-popping pieces that keep your audience glued to the page.
But this little scene in between, when Tinky is quietly sitting in his car, motor humming and wheels turning… well, there is just absolutely nothing happening.
It’s a little dull.
Face it. It would make a dog with rabies put on his pyjamas.
Let’s say you still want it in there. You need a connection piece, you want to slow down the pace a little to ramp it up more effectively later on. Maybe you even want to weave in a bit of backstory, so we better understand where Tinky is coming from.
But how can you do it in a way that doesn’t completely choke off any excitement in your reader?
How do you make a scene that is naturally not very exciting interesting in its own way?
This post will give you a practical roadmap for how to make the in-between sexy. Also, because I know long-winding and unmotivated story parts are often hard to detect for the writer himself, you can here download a free goodie to check your story for superfluous parts and any other imaginable weakness (it uses test questions).
This is how to keep your story fresh and exciting in every scene:
1. If You Can? Trash It
Your first choice should always be to get rid of any in-betweens that don’t advance your plot. To show your protagonist getting out of bed, showering and preparing her breakfast cereals would slow your story down ridiculously, destroy its rhythm and bore the boots off your readers.
There is a storytelling rule that says: “Get into the scene at the latest possible moment and out at the earliest possible moment.” You can observe this rule in meticulous action in screenplays and movies.
Filmmakers in particular can’t afford to bore their audience for even one second. With the ultra-short attention span of today’s YouTube culture, viewers will just cold-bloodedly move on.
However, sometimes you will have your very own reasons to show an additional scene: You may want to show your character in a different light, display her personality or habits or slow down the rhythm on purpose. Maybe you want to give your reader a feeling for passage of time or show social surroundings, working space or landscape. There are a million possible motives.
So should you decide to hang on to your scene, here are a couple of helpful techniques to keep your audience hooked.
2. Introduce Personality: Make It about Character
Instead of worrying how to fill those pages, see them as an awesome opportunity to breathe more life into your characters!
Look at it this way: In most scenes, your plot carries the burden to advance your story.
But now, in your little in-between scene, your character has a chance to fully take the stage and showcase a brand new side of herself. If the story is about her professional life, make that scene about her private life; if the story is about her bright side, make that scene about her dark side – or the other way around.
You might also use the scene to introduce new relationships we don’t know about yet. New relationships can give a deeper glimpse into your character’s personality and show her in a different light.
Each of us human beings is a complete drama on his own. We are also utterly entertaining in our own ways… Use your pages so your reader gets to know your characters better and your entire work will profit!
3. Introduce Action: Make It about Drama
Better yet, when you get several of us together, the drama is exponentiated. So you could involve several characters in your scene and use it for a mini-plot, a play within the play.
Your mini-plot doesn’t have to be connected to the main plot, nor does it have to be about some big and important theme. Depending on your genre, it could be everyday drama and as mundane as a girl forgetting her handbag on the bus.
The overarching plot plays from beginning to end of the entire novel. In turn, your mini-plot could play from beginning to end of the scene, with a similar structure; for example:
- Problem arises
- First attempt at solution
- New twist and problem even worsens; Climax
- Problem gets solved; Happy ending
If you want the complete ballad of the forgotten handbag, how about this: Girl cheerfully rides on a bus, thinking of happy days (introduction); while she is waiting for her connecting bus, she realizes she has forgotten her handbag (problem arises); she enters the first bus again, only to discover the bag isn’t there anymore (attempt at solution, problem worsens in climax); she asks the driver in desperation and learns that somebody has found the bag and taken it to a lost property office (problem solved); happily she goes to pick it up (happy end).
Of course, you can also let a character play through the whole sequence solely in his mind. For example, let him worry about horrible outcomes of the main plot. At that point, he won’t even have to interact with anybody to create drama; he doesn’t even have to move or to do anything. Just let a worst-case scenario play out in his head.
If you are bored, just make things more difficult for your characters: A nightly walk through the park is a lot more suspenseful if you are not sure if somebody is following you. If nothing else helps, you can always fall back on conflict to spice up your tale.
Make sure your mini-plot fits the kind of story you are telling and doesn’t overwhelm your main plot. A comedy with the mini-plot of a mad axe murderer can be done, but you have to make sure to hit the right note…
4. Introduce Questions: Make It about Suspense
Suspense is always about questions: Who is the murderer? Will Godzilla eat the city? What secret does Martin hide from Sharon?
Your readers will never get bored as long as there are nagging questions on their minds.
Image by Dennis Brekke/Flickr CC
In your in-between scene, you have two choices to raise a question.
Option one: You could spin a question of the overall plot further. For example, letting your character contemplate if Craig can even be the murderer, because he was on vacation the entire time; letting your readers know that Godzilla has just eaten another city block; hinting at that breathtaking secret of Martin’s.
Option two: Your mini-plot could create suspense by raising a question on its own. In the example above, it would be the question: Will the girl ever get her handbag back?
In the end, dealing with in-between sections is about giving your scenes a life of their own. This, of course, is something you should always do in any scene, so it’s excellent practice.
You are a storyteller, and if you want to be a really good one, know that not only the raisin parts of your story are worth telling. Any part of your story should be worth writing well and making it at least a little bit interesting.
And if you do take the effort to polish every part of your story, it will feel continuous and complete and shine on like a crazy diamond. Your story will engage your reader continuously, draw her in deeply and take her on a rollercoaster ride she will never be able to forget.
Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Check how tight your scenes are and much more with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.
Kristen here again.
Now let’s hear it from you: What do you usually do with a connection scene? What happens in your story if nothing happens? Do you sometimes let dull story parts slide? Do you proceed to tell people the cookiemonster ate your exciting version? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if all of our scenes could be as dull as watching water condense?
Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).