Scene Structure: The #1 Objective for Your Novel

For this week’s Throwback Thursday, we’re looking at excerpts from past posts on Live Write Thrive that tie in with our exploration on scene structure.

From The #1 Objective for Your Novel:

So . . . what is the number one objective in writing your novel? (Drum roll . . .)

To elicit emotion.

Not any one specific emotion, but some emotion.

And you should have an idea of what kind of emotion you’d like to incite in your reader. But that’s your aim—to move your reader.

One of my favorite books of all time (and space?) is Walter Moers’s The City of Dreaming Books. If you haven’t heard of this German author who draws crazy cartoons throughout and has the most wacky, warped imagination on earth, you need to discover him. In this novel, Optimus Yarnspinner, a young writer (who is more like a goofy dragon), inherits from his beloved godfather an unpublished short story by an unknown author. His search for the author’s identity takes him to Bookholm—the so-called City of Dreaming Books.

On entering its streets, our hero feels as if he has opened the door of a gigantic second-hand bookshop. Thus begins his journey in the treacherous underground where books are alive, scheming, and intent on trapping and torturing you in catacombs hard to escape.

What is so compelling, though, is this short story, which I seem to recall is only ten pages long, is the most spectacular piece of fiction ever written. When Optimus shows it around to the booksellers, they grow obsessive. You watch the fleet of emotions that come across their faces as they read this magnificent piece of work. Tears, shrieks, gasps, cries—it’s a masterpiece and unbelievable that anyone could write such stuff. And of course, it then is priceless and highly coveted. Which leads Optimus into all kinds of danger.

My dream is to someday spend a good amount of time (perhaps a year) trying to write the most powerful, beautiful, moving first scene (ten pages) that will evoke this kind of intense emotional response. What if you could make your reader cry, become breathless, gasp, elevate their heart rate—all this in your first scene. Is it possible? I believe it is.


From Creating “Moments” So You Don’t Bore Your Reader:

It’s All about the Moment

Actress Rosalind Russell was asked: “What distinguishes a great movie?” She answered, “Moments.” And that’s so true for scenes. We remember great scenes because they contain a great moment in them. Often that moment is not something huge and explosive. On the contrary—the best moments are the very subtle ones in which the character learns or realizes something that may appear small to the outside world but is giant in scope to the character.

No doubt you can think of great movie moments, such as in Casablanca (too many in there to list!) when Ilsa tells Sam to “play it again.” Or when Scout meets Boo in To Kill a Mockingbird. Or in City Slickers when Billy Crystal’s character is holding up his finger to indicate the meaning of life. One of my favorite moments is in Babe, when Farmer Hoggett at the end of the sheep trials looks at Babe and says, “That’ll do, pig.” Of course, these moments have been set up so when they play out they’re powerful, but you want to think how in every scene you must have some moment. This is what you’re building to—either some revelation of plot or of character.

Just Why Is Your Character There?

So maybe you’ve put together this first scene. Just why is your character there? What’s her reason or need to be in that place, that moment? What do you plan to reveal in that scene that is significant and important? These questions are especially important to consider when constructing your first scene because, as you now understand, you have to set up the visible goal and the MDQ for the entire book. So you need to pick a moment that will do this the best way.

Too often the first few scenes of a novel aren’t doing this. The protagonist is off doing something, talking to someone, and nothing is really happening—at least nothing significant. There are no high moments and no natural sense of conclusion to those scenes. Writers may feel this is the way to show the “everyman” character in his ordinary world, but as I discussed in early posts, that is just plain boring.

If you’re interested in more about scene structure, be sure to subscribe to Live Write Thrive so you don’t miss the posts. Mondays we’re going deep into scene structure, and Wednesdays we’re looking at first pages of great novels to see why they work. Join us!

Feature Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

One Response to “Scene Structure: The #1 Objective for Your Novel”

  1. Joseph Devon January 21, 2016 at 11:22 am #

    I love this. It’s so important to never waste an opportunity to add to your story. If you have your reader’s attention, DO something with it!

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