Thursday, March 3, 2011

Aspiring Advice - Scenes That Hold Fast

It was by complete accident that last month carried a theme for advice on the effects of writing on the body. I kind of liked that. So, for this month, I've given some thought as to what makes stories so enduring, or not so much. Welcome, fellow readers, to Memorable March.

In every story, there are scenes where events take place, serving to build character and/or move the plot. Some are quite simple, like a conversation while walking across the countryside. Others are complicated, like epic battles where thousands are involved. Then there are those that leave a lasting impression. An excellent example of this is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I know, Christmas is over, but you can't argue that just about every scene in that novelette is so singular and moving that the work itself is not easy to forget. The scene that holds fast to me is Marley's Ghost. It's eerie, it lays out the rest of the story and presents a moral that's not preachy. Marley doesn't say, "You must change your ways or you will become like me!" but rather, "This is my fate. Yours will be like mine, possibly worse. You have this chance to change that." In the end, Marley left Scrooge with a choice, not a guilt trip.

To make scenes memorable, at least three key things are necessary: description, character and uniqueness. In Patrica C. Wrede's The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, there's a scene in a witch's house with lots of cats and a door that reveals different locations every time it's opened. The setting is described so well that I can visualize the entire scene. The characters are fun, their interaction is engaging and the situation is unique. What I mean by unique is how the scene applies to the story as a whole. Does it carry the plot or is it an anecdote? If a scene serves no purpose but to show off your writing, readers may not feel inclined to turn the page.

Drafting scenes are great fun and the possibilities are endless. Make your reader feel welcome. Give them a place where they won't mind visiting again. Better yet, make them want to visit again. Being published is great (I'm sure), but being read is far more important.

What makes a scene hold fast to you?

I'm David, and there's a birthday today (not mine).


  1. I find that the scenes that stick in my mind are the ones that are charged with genuine, justifiable emotion. For example, in the third season of Avatar: The Last Airbender there is a scene where one of the main characters finally confronts the man who killed her mother. That scene is so full of anger and sorrow and pain that I literally did not know how it was going to turn out. And yet I felt closer to that character and more connected to her than ever before. It was a WONDERFUL scene. Incidentally, that whole series is full of real emotion, not just the contrived sentimentality that pervades literature these days.

  2. Hey, thanks for visiting my blog :-)
    Just want to say I really like the cover you made for THE DRAGON'S HEART (not available - yet <--- love that too!). Simple yet captivating (as all good covers are!).

  3. That is so true. I can't seem to get into books that are trying to push me into thinking a certain way (even though I do like books that make me think).

    But a really good scene (for me) is one that I am immersed in, action, plot, great characters. It's a mix for me. =)

  4. I think a great scene for me is one that makes me feel emotion. If I laugh or cry, feel angry or shocked, then I'll remember it. Great post!

  5. Susan - you hit the nail on the head! :)

    Reece - extra points for bringing up my favorite animated series! I was planning to bring up "emotion" next week. For me, there's a contrast between what you said and what Susan said. I'll explain next week. Thanks!

    Rachel - I'm glad you like the cover. When my WiP is done, I plan to go back to it for a final rewrite (I hope). Thanks for coming!

    Carolyn - my sentiments exactly :)

  6. For me, being able to feel for what the characters are going through makes a scene stick in my memory. If it's just description, that will give me an idea of what's going on, but it's the characters that make an action/emotional scene different from all the others.

  7. Eagle - exactly. A good balance is always needed. I personally like to have a good sense of a setting to create a picture. After that, it's all about the characters, what they're up to, and what they're feeling and talking/thinking about.

  8. Great post David. :)

    What makes a scene hold fast to for me? Definitely emotion. When I recall scenes from books and movies, the first thing that always sticks out in my mind is the emotion, and the overall atmosphere of the scene. How were the characters acting during it? What was happening that set the mood?

    Those are all key factors to make a scene hold fast to me.

  9. A scene holds fast for me when I have an idea of how things should turn out, but they aren't transpiring in that way. You can often tell when an author isn't really creating the scene so much as transcribing it from what that deep, cosmic writer's medium is telling him or her.
    Thanks for sharing and have a very merry un-birthday!

  10. The scenes that stick most for me are ones that grab me by the heart in some way and leave me unable to shake the feeling after I've stopped reading. Whether it's warm & fuzzy or empy & heartbroken. If I feel it powerfully, I'll likely never forget it.

    Thanks for my shout out! The baseball girl is highly excited that Opening Day is only a month away!

  11. Hi David, thanks for visiting my blog. It's good to meet you.

    I think, for me, a scene works well if it does the following: It must, as you say, move the story along. A scene can do no more than developing character or world, but I think the art is to move the story at the same time. That can be done subtly or overtly, but either way it adds value to the scene for the reader.

    As for elements of tension, romance, humour or whatever else is going on in the story I think there has to be a flow to it. Tension is a good example, in that if it's maintained too high throughout the story then it becomes exhausting. The flow must have highs and lows, giving it shape.

    This was a thought provoking article. Thanks.

  12. Emotion is what makes them stick for me. If it makes me cry, then I'll always remember it. The Hunger Games is my most recent example of this.

  13. Hi David - Yep I saw the shout out and thanks for that! I actually posted a comment here yesterday to say thanks but for some reason it doesn't seem to have shown up :( Have a great day!