Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Scene - What’s it all about, Alfie?

It's Wordy Wednesday, and that means...
...time for some reflections from the editor's desk!

Okay, who remembers that 1966 song by Dionne Warwick? And am I dating myself when I say I do?  The introductory lyrics to that song say:

“What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?”

So, let me ask you, can you answer these questions when you look at each and every scene in your story?

What’s it all about? As an author, I dread being asked this question by my critique group or partners. Yet it’s one of the most important question to ask ourselves. What is this scene all about? Is it just plunked there to fill space or does it move the story forward? Is it just Sally chatting with her girlfriends over wine at a local bar, or does it show Sally’s disgust for muscle men as one walks past and the others ogle him? (Of course, that probably means she also is about to meet the muscle man of her dreams, right?)

Is there an entrance, a focus, and an exit/cliff hanger?  Using the scenario in the paragraph above, Sally sits on the stool her friends saved for her (entrance) and the conversation they have tells us more about who Sally is (the focus). This focus can have two purposes. One, it shows us more about the character. As the friends chat, maybe we find out where Sally works and whether she’s a wine snob or prefers to drink beer out of a bottle. We certainly find out she’s not into muscle-bound men. Focus can also set up a future event (foreshadow).  For instance, I bet Sally will end up tripping over her own feet on her way out of the restaurant. Muscle man will save her from hitting the cement and she looks up into the deepest blue eyes she’s ever seen. At which point, he’ll make some sort of comment about how handy muscle men can be and leave her standing there. (And there’s your exit/cliff hanger for the scene.)

As an editor, I’m looking for that. I’m looking for whether or not there is a the dialogue, the internalizations, the setting.  All of it. I want your reader to feel like they can’t turn the pages fast enough. In order to do that, even with the ebb and flow of a story, there must always be forward momentum.

And remember, when it comes to a scene, enter late and leave early. You don’t need to show her walking in to the bar. Just have her plop into that chair. And when muscle guy walks off, don’t let her think about it. Leave her with her mouth hanging open.  I guarantee you the reader will turn the page. So will your editor.

If you look at your scene and can easily tell why it’s there, then it’s done what it should. If you can’t, then take a closer look at it. Does it move the story forward? Does it have a purpose? If not, it might be time to grab those digital scissors and start cutting.

Laurie Temple is an editor at Champagne Books and writes under the pseudonym Laurie Ryan.
Twitter: @lryanauthor


  1. Laurie, you hit home with this one. I have been learning to cut out chunks of what I'd normally write and I find it's actually more compelling. As a reader of detailed, epic fantasy, I'm actually thankful when an author demonstrates this skill, taking me from a dock to the inside of a castle in one sentence.

  2. Hi, January. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. A great reminder to take a good look at those scenes. I especially liked the 'arrive late' and 'leave early'.

    1. Hi, Lavada. That's the creative part of writing...keeping the reader turning the page, eh?

  4. Thanks for sharing this with us! Some really amazing features.
    where is dicasp from