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Writing Novel Scenes A to Z - Drama, Sex, and Sass

So now you're writing the novel, or rewriting it, or preparing to? 

There is so much to consider your head has exploded and now you're groping for the parts. Nevertheless, we strongly recommend in this phase somewhere between false confidence and mortifying epiphany that you wisely execute your novel a scene at a time. No better organizing principle than this. Forget chapters, for the moment. Know that each scene serves a purpose, often more than one, e.g., pushing the plot forward while introducing a major secondary character. Each scene also evolves with its own beginning, middle, and end (see the steamy example below).

Btw, if you've not yet done so, great idea to absorb the Six Act Two-Goal Novel before continuing. Also, please review the First Ten Steps, as well as our crucial articles on setting, antagonists, and delivering exposition. Why? Because the points below will make way more sense if viewed in the proper context.

KEY CONCEPTS: story premise, storyboard, dramatic plot instances, novel elements, protagonist vs. antagonist, inciting incident, character evolution, genre novel analysis, inter-scene narrative, sex scene in three parts.

Most Important First Scenes

For starters, below are the first five dramatic plot instances that will appear in your genre novel-in-progress as you develop the novel based on a defined premise and with an aim towards creating a tale just as suspenseful and engaging as any great film. 

Note that scenes might not appear in the exact order presented below (except in the case of inciting incident before first major PP). The protagonist might walk onto the stage first or immediately following portrayal of the antagonist, or not be present until after the inciting incident, etc. Nonetheless, these five plot instances occur in their own customized scene (sometimes more than one); and never forget that every major scene, and nearly every minor one, drives plot momentum and complexity in both novels and screenplays as well:

PORTRAYAL OF ANTAGONIST - We witness antagonist power and influence, in whatever way it's made manifest in the context of the story, e.g., the Opus Dei albino hunts his target in the DA VINCI CODE; Assef torments his victims in THE KITE RUNNER; Javert displays his powers and ruthless fanaticism in LES MISERRABLES; the crazed slasher in SCREAM dispatches his first victim... NOTE: the plot instance below can easily be contained within this plot instance also, however, we believe it more powerful if they're distinct. 

ANTAGONIST IN POSSESSION OF MAJOR GOAL - What will the protagonist and antagonist struggle to possess or control as the story moves forward? The mafia capo ruthlessly rules the casino; the Big Nurse controls the asylum; Tom Buchanan dominates his wife Daisy; a tyrannical King owns the "Sacred Life Stone." 

PORTRAYAL OF PROTAGONIST - The protagonist appears on the page or in the film and the reader knows instinctively she or he will be matched against the antagonist (esp if the antagonist is seen first). Thus, the fate of the protagonist is foreshadowed and "dramatic irony" is manifest, i.e., the reader realizes potential doom, tragedy, or failure even before the protagonist does (thus greatly increasing concern and suspense). For this scene and others that follow keep in mind the protagonist sympathy factors--important for the first scenes!!! 

INCITING INCIDENT SCENE - The initial plot instance that sets in motion an inevitable course towards the first major plot point. Katniss takes her sister's place in THE HUNGER GAMES; the general decides to search for Private Ryan in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN; the disappearance of Amy in GONE GIRL engages the town. 

FIRST MAJOR PLOT POINT SCENE - Following the INCITING INCIDENT, the protagonist, in one way or another, declares or indicates they will engage in the challenge, fight, or struggle to defeat, curtail, or foil the antagonist; thus, the core rising action or conflict of the novel is launched, as well as beginning the second act of a film: the Hobbits begin their journey to destroy the Ring; Gatsby makes it clear he will reclaim Daisy; Sarah Conner joins the struggle against the Terminator.

Scene Writing by Steps

Now, a couple of points about scene writing in general. Unless you're a veteran, strongly recommend the following advice.

    1. Storyboard the scene. What does that mean? In other words, sketching on paper the layout of the scene with major characters and objects to assist with spatial placement and movement as necessary. This could ideally involve a bit of artful drawing combined with scene notes. In your scene notes, include the major characters and the particular set details (where, what, who). State the purpose of the scene in one or two lines and know its relation to the overall plot line going forward, e.g., from the points above, you would state "Inciting incident" and go from there.

    Don't overlook all the novel elements that must be established in and around these first five dramatic scenes, and that includes the bulk of necessary exposition, setting details, introduction of major characters and important secondary ones, establishment of the primary conflict or "agon," and more. Refer to the Six Act Two-Goal for additional information.

    2. Chart and establish all the major plot instances that follow on the first five above, e.g., your first major reversal. List them and add notes for each one as you consider their role in the novel. Just know, they're not set in stone yet. Editorial development will follow. Refer to the Six Act Two-Goal for additional information. 

    3. Following on above, and as additional guidance, locate the inciting incident and first major plot point scene in at least three of your favorite genre novels. Analyze these scenes, note how they develop, and begin to write your own experimental scenes based on our notes here, and what you've observed in the examples. THIS IS IMPORTANT! If you begin in this manner, you'll not only get it straight but build confidence in your own ability. The successful development of these crucial first scenes will serve as a vital guidepost going forward.

    4. Within the first 50 pages of the novels you've chosen, also note via your careful analysis all the scenes that adjoin, support, and complement the five major dramatic scenes already noted above. Make a list of them and write down the purpose they serve in the novel. THIS WILL BE INVALUABLE to you going forward. Trust us! 
    Also, overview the types of "glue narrative" (or pre-scene and post-scene narrative: example below) you find between distinct scenes. What purpose do they serve in the novel? Write down your glue narrative observations gathered from the novels you're reading.

    5. Character Evolution - as part of the process of sketching and developing your first scenes, take note of character development and roles as the story chugs forward, momentum increasing. Consider the point-of-view character in the particular scene (if written third person POV, this character might well vary from scene to scene) and their predisposition, character traits, back story, and anything else that might be relevant. Why? Because the viewpoint of this character will inevitably bring a certain tone and filter to the scene. 
    See the WE notes on this here. Also, keep in mind that quite often, whatever happens in the scene will bring some degree of change to the character in question--small or large. What will it be? Why will it matter? What purpose will it serve?... Keep in mind too the character's overall arc throughout the novel. Is the scene supporting it, or perhaps, is the scene changing it? That can happen.

    6. Once you've drafted a few scenes, up to and including your INCITING INCIDENT, return to them after a few weeks (see Self-Editing Technique) and verify proper application and emphasis of all the major elements. Do you see the cinema? Do you feel the momentum? Is the exposition parceled in properly? Is the suspense there? Is the setting serving its purpose? Is the point of view correct? Are all these scenes developing character and pushing the plot forward at the same time?
BTW, here is another article on advanced scene development. Worth a read.

Inter-scene Narrative and Sex 

"Glue narrative" also known to us as inter-scene narrative. Like scene narrative, it delivers the major elements we've discussed so far (exposition, setting, etc.), but outside the framework of an actual scene. It's not live action narrative that makes you feel as if the characters and circumstances are evolving dynamically in front of your eyes, no, rather it mimics a near omniscient or "sweeping" narrator style, immersing the reader in a panoramic world of time shifts, brief flashbacks, energetic exposition, and wide-angle camera vistas--whatever is necessary to relate the story outside the confines of the formal scene.

Quite often, the narrative in question possesses an anecdotal quality to it, whether related in first or third person, and more often than not, dialogue is absent (though exceptions exist, e.g, a short anecdotal flashback wherein a character is heard speaking one or two lines).

The example below of this type of narrative is borrowed from another article here on WE entitled
Brilliant Fiction Narrative in Four Stages .

        Senna and her father set the traps together, for Senna possessed the power to see the trails of the animals they hunted--often dangerous trails that led the two of them into wounding thickets or up the slick trunks of tamarand trees, following wild Cholu monkeys that set traps for predators like themselves.
        Father never saw the thin shimmering trails in the air, scattered all around and leading every which way, looking as if interweaving spiders had drawn impossibly gigantic webs. He could not mark the passage of living creatures through the world, and his blindness to it seemed like a failure to him. Senna knew he felt jealous. Her instincts often contradicted his own hunting wisdom, and that especially irritated him. But to Senna, her "trail eyes," as she called them, felt natural, her ability effortless and always part of her vision. The newer the path of the animal, the bluer the shimmer. Older ones glowed in hues of green or waned to yellow, and the truly ancient ones softened to a dark red.
       Father could only fume, or act annoyed, depending on the hour and his mood. Senna avoided him if his mood darkened, and she feared that further development of her power might make him feel even more obsolete and angry, for her power grew each day.

[transition to live action scene - set-up then into dialogue]

       With the arrival of summer, the two of them journeyed once more in search of the Cholu monkeys, knowing full well the dangers, but Cholu fur brought huge rewards at the marketplace in Ulaanbatar, the closest town.
          Father insisted on taking the lead during their foray as they ascended into highland country where the tamarand trees thrived in the cooler temperatures of the Massanutten foothills. Senna agreed without a word, just nodded. Over the past year, she'd began to change her mind about hunting the Cholu. She found the practice rather cruel, despite the rewards. She could have sworn that a Cholu once tried to speak to her as it was dying. But the gods knew, talking Cholus or no, Senna and her father desperately needed coin to stay alive--the kind only Ulaanbatar provided.
        "We will bag a dozen Cholu this time out," her father said.
        "I'm not sure we should," Senna said, her voice weak with anticipation of the consequences.
        "What do you mean?"

Above, you see a distinct difference between inter-scene and following scene narrative that creates a stronger camera-eye focus. 

And now, a short sex scene by Jennifer Weiner from her novel WHO DO YOU LOVE? Noted below, the beginning, middle, end. Man's point of view, and it ends with his fantasy:

BEGINNING (set-up, light the match, emotional response, reflection)

        They walked in silence through the parking lot. When they got to his car, he hugged her, holding her tightly against him, an embrace still on the right side of propriety, one that could still be considered friendly, but only just. When they broke apart, her face was flushed, her eyes shining.
        "I hope it won't be another three years before we see each other again."

MIDDLE (decision, action, emotion escalates, narrative verve escalates)

        Instead of answering, Rachel reached for him, putting her small, warm hand on the back of his neck, lifting her lips to his. They kissed, first lightly, then more urgently, his tongue in her mouth, her hips tilted against his, her breasts against his chest, her whole body sending a message that was undeniable.
        "Want to come up?" he asked.
        She'd left her bags in his apartment, with the understanding that they'd pick them up after dinner and he'd take her to the hotel she'd booked. More than once, when they'd been talking, he'd offered her his bed, saying he'd sleep on the couch, and Rachel had turned him down, politely but firmly.
        Without a word, she climbed into the passenger seat, smiling at him, saying, "Yes."
        They started kissing again. Her tongue fluttered against his, and his hands were deep in the softness of her hair, and it was like time unspooled, carrying them right back to when they were teenagers.

END (verve and action ebb, resolution, reflection)

        He pulled her against him, thinking that he'd never get her close enough, that if he could fold her inside of him, like a mother tucking a baby into her coat, he'd do it. He'd keep her warm, he'd keep her safe, he'd keep her with him, always.



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