I love James Scott Bell’s advice on improving scenes in his amazingly awesome book, Revision and Self-Editing (a must-own for every novelist). He recommends going through your manuscript and identifying the ten weakest scenes, cutting number ten (the weakest), and doing the following to strengthen the remaining nine. But if you have the time, why not do the following for every single one of your scenes? Think how amazing your story would be.
First, every scene should have the three O’s, as JCB calls them:
1. An objective: the point of view character wants to accomplish something
2. An obstacle: something needs to get in the way of the objective
3. An outcome: the scene’s ending
So here’s what you do:
First, determined your character’s objective.
- If there isn’t one, that should be a huge warning sign. Either get one or cut the scene.
- Once you understand the objective, ask yourself if you can strengthen it. Can you make it more important? Can you reveal something that makes the objective even more crucial than your protagonist originally thought?
- Or maybe your objective is lame. Start brainstorming! Write a list of ten alternative objectives. Think outside the box. Pick the most original one and revise the scene accordingly.
Second, examine your obstacle.
- What’s stopping your character from getting what he or she wants? Is it another character? Is it the character himself? Is it a physical circumstance – like a disability or the weather or a traffic jam?
- Once you’ve figured out the obstacle, ask yourself if you can strengthen it. Can you make it huge? Can you make it more immediate?
- An excellent tool I like to utilize when it comes to intensifying my obstacles is the ticking time clock. Can you find a way to put a time limit on your character? So-and-so has to accomplish the scene objective in a certain amount of time or else? It does wonders for increasing tension.
Third, consider your outcome.
- Does the character accomplish his goal? Why?
- Have you considered ending with a disaster? Something that keeps the reader tense and the character away from his ultimate story goal. Because after all, it’s that tension which keeps your reader turning pages.
- A disaster is usually the best way to end your scenes.. So ask yourself how you can make things worse.
There you go, courtesy of the amazing James Scott Bell. Some sure fire tips for making your scenes jump off the page. Hope they help!
Questions to Ponder: How do you make your scenes jump off the page? How do you decide if you’re going to keep them or ax them? What tips of the trade can you share with me when it comes to revisions?