Making a Scene

In chapter 8 of The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing Les Standiford suggests writing novels more like movie scenes: each scene has it’s own beginning, middle, and end and uses as few words as possible to enrich character, provide necessary information, and/or move the plot forward. “Exposition” and “thought” aren’t available so scenes must be shown using only action, dialogue, and description.

Today I’m going to practice a one-page scene:

A healthy, middle-aged man and woman hold hands walking along the beach when a bottle washes ashore. They stop suddenly, look at each other in alarm and break into a run. The man is faster than the woman, but she pulls down his shorts to make him trip. When he realizes she’s passing him he gives her a clothesline and she falls into the sand. Before he can get his shorts back up she jumps onto his back and chokes him while he crawls toward the bottle. She’s pulling his head backwards when he finally pops the cork and pulls out a tiny piece of paper which she snatches away and eats.

The man points triumphantly. “I knew it! I knew you were a spy!”

“Then you should’ve come prepared, baby.” She draws a pistol.

He drops his hands and smiles looking very comfortable. “What makes you think I didn’t?”

She pulls the trigger and gets nothing but an electric jolt. He closes the gap in two steps and knocks her out cold.

Ok. Now to answer a couple of Standiford’s chapter questions:

#1- What does it add in terms of character development, necessary information, or plot movement?

It’s hard to say because this isn’t part of a developed story, but we immediately learn that these two lovers have a lot more going on than just romance. He accuses her of being a spy and she carries a weapon she’s willing to use. However, he was ready and even had it rigged. As for plot movement, they’re both outed as more than simple lovers.

#2- Does it have a beginning, middle, and end?

The scene begins with the man and the woman on the beach, leads to the scrap for the bottle, and ends with him knocking her out.

#3- Have I gotten in quickly and gotten out as soon as possible?

The action begins early and the scene ends with it. There aren’t a lot of wasted words and there’s zero exposition or thought (unless you count, “I knew you were a spy”).

#4- What should or would happen next?

The next scene begins with her handcuffed to a chair in a small room about to be interrogated.

Next time I hope to create a “situation” and a “complication” for these characters.


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