Write Hot, Edit Cool: 5 Essentials for Your Scene

Summer scene, N.Y. - drinking water from stree...
Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

When you are writing your scene you are not particularly thinking about structure or theme, or action, or motivation as such.  You are writing the story.

When the time comes to edit either the next day or after you have finished the entire story—writers do it either way—you need to look at the scene with a cool, critical eye.  I’ve been working with writers lately who wonder what to look for in each scene.

You may want to add these to your plot spreadsheet for each scene, so that when you go back to edit you know that each component is there.

  1. Conflict!  Yep, internal or external there must be conflict or the reader is going to toss your manuscript in the slush pile.  It is the most important element.
  2. Place and time.  Make certain your audience knows where they are.  I’ve seen both fiction and script writers overlook this element.  Don’t make your audience wonder what time it is or where the action takes place.
  3. Dramatic action.  This is the guts of the scene, what happens.  Make certain that it is dominant over any emotional or scenic description. Or, if you really insist, backstory.
  4. Goal.  The protagonist (of the scene) needs to want something.  He enters a scene with a goal in mind.  She may or may not reach it in the scene (conflict) but the goal is there.
  5. Emotional change.  The protagonist’s (of the scene) mood changes according to what is said and done in the scene.

These are the five most important elements.  For fiction writers you may want to make certain you have included at least four of the five senses.  Think, too, of elements of the theme to include.

Scenes are the building blocks of your story.  You want them rich, yet crisp.  Powerful, yet clear.

If you work on each scene to clarify, refine and enrich, your story will be power-packed, strong and emotionally grabbing.  That’s what you want, isn’t it?

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