Saturday, January 11, 2014

Novel Craft: 5 Common Scene Problems

Hi folks, I'm continuing my series on scenes. Last week I discussed the basic scene. You must be able to produce it in fluent way to create viable stories. This week, I'm going to discuss common problems that I've encountered reading and writing scenes.This is a working writer's perspective. Here is a list of 5 common scene problems.

1. The author understands who is in the scene but fails to communicate this to the reader.  Five or more characters in a scene are rattled in succession and the writer expects the reader to get it. The author offers little or no explanation to the identity of Rocket, Apple, Kal-el, Blue, and Ocean. Very few authors are competent with multiple characters in a scene. This is a complex skill. If you are struggling, (i.e. beta-readers read your book and say, I don't know who all these people are) allow only one to three characters per scene. If you want to bring someone into a scene, send someone out to more easily manage characters on scene.

2. The author uses specific but unimportant details to orient the reader which provide no sensory input.  Scenes are riddled with: this is on the left, this is on the right, five minutes later, seven minute after that, up there, over there. Take a lesson from the masters of art. Focus on the important  physical and sensory details. The shiny knife, the eyes, the sound of the voices, the smell of the pancakes (because that is always important). Smudge everything else. 

3. The author creates stilted dialogue. Every line is self conscious and unnatural. This happens for a number of reasons.One problem is forcing information into the dialogue that readers need to know. Take it out and hide it in the exposition or delete it altogether. No one wants a conversational info dump. Another problem that hampers scenes, dialogue goes on too long and the reader snoozes. Remember, things need to happen in books at least occasionally. One more problem is lack of texture between the characters. The author fails to create a unique voice for each character in the story. This is wholly annoying. You know who I'm talking about -- put a "cheesy author name" here. 

4. The author repeats characters' interior thoughts over and over. Oh, this is a scene killer. Your main character might internally wail about the 37 reasons she doesn't like her life. The reader got it the first time. Totally.  Look for duplicating thoughts and back down to one. And, oh, your scenes will be much, much more authentic if you do this. Also watch out for divergent thoughts that flip and flop like oxygen starved minnows. The main character thinks one thing -- Rocket makes my world go around -- and then another -- Rocket has destroyed my universe -- and then yet another -- Rocket doesn't know I'm alive -- and then  -- Rocket reminds me of a doodle bug.  Cohesiveness, folks. The main character is unreliable and not in a good way. The reader rolls her eyes and skips ahead in the book. She never buys another book by this author.

5.  The author is in love with the description. Yes, I know there are a few writers that are masters of description, but  generally loads of description just make the scene a muddy mess. It hurts to cut twenty beautiful lines and only leave one. I understand, but  no one wants to wade through all that description. Stick to the action, the dialogue, the emotions, the interior thoughts and decisions.  Your scene will thank me.  Note, you do need some description. No one wants floating talking heads either. Use the description sparingly, like salt.

Okay, there you go, some real life scene problems. Think about your scenes. Tighten them up. Your story will thank you. I will be back next week with more about crafting scenes.

Here is the doodle: "Sleep Walkers"

Here is a quote for your week: I hope you feel this way about story.

I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me-like food or water. Ray Charles


Stasia said...

THANK YOU for these craft fundamentals you have revisited and clarified so well. Heading off to tweet your good advice to the cyberverse :)

MollyMom103 said...

Thank you for liking this. I had fun writing it! I hope it leads to better books because I love to read.

Vijaya said...

All I can think of is: What we have here, is a failure to communicate! Good stuff, Molly. I've missed you -- my Feed thingie was acting wonky.

Can't wait to have PLUMB in my very own hands!!! Happy New Year!!!

MollyMom103 said...

Hi Vijaya...I find computers are very wonky. I am so busy writing my next book. I rarely come up for air. Happy New Year to you too!!!!