Saturday, November 19, 2016

15 Ways to Rescue Your Scene

Make your scenes shine! In This Scene Sucks: 15 Screenwriting Mistakes to Avoid, Timothy Cooper shows writers how to do just that by describing the screenwriting mistakes he most often sees. Of course, the same principles apply to fiction writing.

Here are the problems Mr. Cooper, an accomplished screenwriter, most often sees:

1. Characters are described in excruciating detail
2. Characters have androgynous names.
3. Character names begin with the same letter, and/or look similar on the page.
4. The scene begins at the very beginning of the exchange, rather than the middle.
5. Typo.
6. People say exactly what they mean.
7. The actual action of the scene is unclear.
8. We’re introduced to too many characters on the first page.
9. Formatting issues. 
10. Much of the information is impossible to actually show on the screen.
11. Long chunks of text.
12. An unimportant character is given too much weight.
13. No major conflict.
14. Unnecessary parentheticals. 
15. Clichéd dialogue.

#4, “The scene begins at the very beginning of the exchange, rather than the middle” is one of my favorites. Timothy Cooper expands on his statement:
Yes, many conversations begin like this in real life. But on the page, it’s crushingly dull. Instead, enter the scene mid-conflict by jumping in as late as possible (without being confusing). Then, make sure to exit the scene before it’s all wrapped up neatly. This leaves some tension to push the reader into your next scene.
I also like #8, “We’re introduced to too many characters on the first page”:
Introduce us to just a few characters at a time. It’s like going to a party: If the host tells you everyone’s name at once, you won’t remember a single name. But if you start by talking with just two or three people, then move on to the next small group, you’re way more likely to get to know and care about each individual. 

I just purchased a used copy of The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer, by Sandra Scofield. The author offers this advice about scene openings:
It is possible to pull the reader into the heart of the story, beginning in media res without getting lost, if your opening lines offer enough details of situation, setting, and potential conflict.
Sandra Scofield offers an entire chapter to scenes with many characters. As I tend to populate my story with lots of characters (a curious writer trait, as I’m pretty much of a loner) I’m going to pay close attention to this advice.
Can you add pet peeves to this list? Tell us what you’ve done to rescue your beloved story.
Read Timothy’s Cooper’s entire article here.
For more on The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer, click here.


Ellen Byron said...

Great post, Maggie. And I'm so relieved to find someone else who populates their books with a lot of characters. I do, too. I know it can be hard on the reader, but it's my way of getting in a lot of suspects!

Marilyn Levinson said...

Love this list of don'ts, esp the one of characters saying exactly what they mean. Our characters often lie, omit facts, and hide deep, dark secrets to keep our readers in suspense.

Linda Thorne said...

I had to reduce the number of my characters in my book and I took some out of the first chapter because it was really confusing. I haven't read this book yet, but I do love self-help books on any writing. I read them and then keep them and revisit sections often, referencing areas I need to brush up on. These type of books, I never give away.

Maggie King said...

In many English novels and TV shows, we get bombarded with characters from the start. Eventually we do sort them out. In my third book I'm trying to slowly introduce the characters.

Kaye George said...

All good points! Refreshers are always good. Thanks for the post.

Liane Spicer said...

Good reminders! I recall never finishing a book because there were far too many characters and I kept losing track of them.

Academic Indonesia said...

nice tips... thank you

Joyce Brown said...

These reminders are helpful, especially starting a conversation in the middle where the conflict is strong and ending before it's wrapped up. I'll put that at the top of my dialogue reminders.