Learning to Write ‘In Scene’

February 22, 2013

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IN SCENE VS. NOT IN SCENE

Karlie asked: I would like to hear more about writing in scene, and getting into character.

Let’s look at a excerpt and then at ways to move it into scene.

iliketowrite77, a fellow NaNoWriMo writer, lent me this excerpt:

________________________________________________________

Her heart pounded as she raced through the streets, three palace guards on her heels. She threw her head back and laughed, the wind whipping through her hair. This was her favorite part – the chase. She sped through the alley and hid in a small alcove as she waited for the guards to catch up. The king had sent less agile men this time. Fool. Hadn’t he figured out by now what she had taken? She drew the sword and looked it over – Freshly polished. Perfectly balanced. It was a masterpiece. And enchanted, nonetheless. She could see why the king would want it for his plan. To take someone out with this beauty would only take one well-placed jab.

Focus, Red. The guards are coming, she chided herself.

“Through here!” one whispered. Apparently they were attempting to sneak up on her. She almost snorted with the thought.

Hide, or fight? she questioned. One of the guards tripped and fell, and the sound sliced through the silence of the night. He lay sprawled across the cobbles. She laughed to herself. Fight, she decided, and her mouth twisted into a cold smile.

___________________________________________________________

My advice was to first look at the sentence structure, thinking of edits to make this chase scene even more exciting. I told this writer to look at the words she used to begin the lines.

I told her, “You can see when you line them up like this what your go-to type of sentence is. If some of them were edited to start differently, we might see things more ‘in scene’, rather than via narration.” Pronoun (Her, She, It) followed by noun or verb account for 9 line openers. A majority of her lines use mostly telling words, rather than showing ones:

(it took her a while to slip ‘into scene’, I think it happened at ‘Focus’)

Her heart. She threw. This was.

She sped. The king had. Fool.

 Hadn’t he. She drew. Perfectly balanced.

 It was. And enchanted. She could see. To take.

Focus, Red. The guards. “Through here”.

Apparently they. She almost. Hide, or fight.

One of the. He lay. She laughed. Fight, she decided.

Look at her first three openings for her lines above; they are telling the reader something. showing happend when we just see it rather than get told about it.  Of the 23 lines, 9 seem to be written in scene, rather than in narration (telling).

So take a look at any three of her ‘telling lines’ and you try an edit for scene rather than narrative. If you have your own excerpt to work with. Take it and first, highlight the ‘telling‘ lines, then figure out ways of saying it in the present tense of ‘in scene‘ writing.

Alternately,
Another way to try bringing thing right into scene, instead of telling us these story-facts in narration is just a shuffling of lines without even editing for structure. The only line that seems a candidate to leave out, or edit, is the one about her beating heart- (without a beating heart she’s not running anywhere). Adding in a how or why a heart is beating is a solution, if you can give that info to the reader in a non-telling way.

Consider this shuffling of the excerpt. You’ll notice that little of it was cut:
_______________________________

Focus, Red. The guards are coming, she chided herself.

“Through here!” one whispered. Apparently they’d sent three palace guards to sneak up on her. She almost snorted with the thought.  Head back and laughing, the wind whipping through her hair, she raced through the streets. This was her favorite part – the chase. She sped through an alley, then hid in a small alcove, waiting for them to catch up.

The king had sent less agile men this time. Hadn’t he figured out by now what she had taken? Her heart pounding fast from the race through the streets, guards on her heels, she drew the sword, looking it over. Freshly polished. Perfectly balanced. It was a masterpiece. Enchanted.

She could see why the king would want it for his plan. Fool. To take someone out with this beauty would only take one well-placed jab. Hide, or fight? she questioned. One of the guards tripped and fell,  sprawling across the cobbles. The sound sliced through the silence of the night. She laughed to herself.

Fight, she decided, and her mouth twisted into a cold smile.
_______________________________

Three other things to remember (or try for if they are new to you).

  1. Remove as much –ed word endings from narration as you can once you’ve slipped into scene
  2. Scenes have realistic dialogue, not exposition in the guise of characters speaking to each other.
  3. Setting within scene should be there to serve the scene, not to describe place.

Also remember that in tense situations, or when a character’s under duress, a short line is better than a longer one for heightening the tone of the scene.

Next week:

GETTING INTO A CHARACTERS’ HEAD

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9 Responses to “Learning to Write ‘In Scene’”


  1. This post was so helpful. I like the idea of lining up sentence openings to see patterns. I tend to use the word “that” far too often, which puts distance from the scene. When I remove the thats and change verbs to present tense, the scenes come more to life.

    My memoir is told in first person.I have to make sure my sentences do not always begin with “I.” Also, it is hard to realistically put scene descriptions in it, especially when part of my story is told from the viewpoint of a young girl.

    Thank you for your blog.

  2. Karlie Says:

    As always, I came away from this with a better understanding of writing. Thank you for posting!


  3. […] Learning to Write ‘In Scene’ | E.J. Runyon’s Author Blog. […]


  4. So well done that I Pressed it.

    Thanks.

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