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Composing The Scene

Once you have the scene outlined, it is time to develop the content.

1. Opening Line: Set up the conflict in the scene.


2. First paragraphs: Orient us: where are we, when is it, who is present, and what do they want? 

3. Introduce theme and make sure the goal is understood.

4. Follow a logical chain of eventsThe action or conversation is followed by a visceral response, then a conscious response, then recovery/thinking/planning, then the outcome which should result in a new goal.

Make sure you show a recovery after all key scenes and turning points.

5. Vary the speed to create a flow that keeps a reader interested. 

1) Slow, fast, slow. 
2) Slow, medium, fast.
3) Fast, medium, slow. 
4) Medium, fast, slow. 

Vary sentence structure. Vary the speed within the scene. Nonstop action without resting beats is too fast. All internal narration and narration without action beats is too slow. Highlight the fast parts. Are there peaks and valleys? Have quieter, slower conflicts between big turning points and reveals.

Every tense action scene should have a rise, impact, and fall. Every tense conversation should have a lead up to a tense exchange, a verbal zinger, and a response. Show the recovery, leave a hook with the new complication.

Slow speed includes blend of description, narrative, internal dialogue and narrative, and exposition (i.e. background information). Long cumulative sentences are slow (use sparingly). Facts, review, summary, backstory, and flashbacks are slow.

Use Medium/Normal pacing when the  story is progressing but nothing special is happening. Good for setting a scene or transitioning between two dramatic scenes. Give readers a break from the action and slow down the pace. Use an even blend of description, dialogue, narration, and exposition. Include step by step detail. Use compound sentences with limited detail. Use fleshed out dialogue interposed with action beats and short internal thoughts. Focus on a specific encounter or activity.

Use Atmospheric pacing to create a mood or feeling in a chapter. Set a scene, establish tone, or foreshadow events, often all at the same time. Blend physical and psychological description to set the mood. The story is moving forward but the blend of descriptions suffuses the scene with the desired effect.

Use Suspenseful pacing to keep readers on the edge of their seat. Focus on step by step detail and action that work toward but delay the ultimate payoff. Use short, choppy rhythm, then long beats, then short, choppy beats. Suspense is slow but seems fast because the reader speeds up as he rushes to see how events play out. 

Someone is being hunted or struggling. Allow the reader to feel anxiety. Dialogue with a little action and description thrown in can be suspenseful, tense. Use description to set up scary mood. Drag out tension. The verbal camera is at a wide angle. The catalyst could be sights, smells, sounds, touch, anxiety. Zoom in closer until on the face or inside head. The climax should be in virtual slow motion, blow by blow focus on the words and actions.

Use fast pace to create tension. Dialogue is fast with little action or thoughts and lots of white space. High action scenes or characters engaged in emotional confrontations are fast. Short summary can be fast. Short dialogue and action beats, base clauses, and short sentences add speed. The verbal camera is zoomed in all the way. Save high speed for important turning points. Focus on one element to the exclusion of all others, just dialogue or narration of action. Leave out description beyond physical action. Use short snappy sentences. Avoid details like left and right that force your reader to think about it. Once involved in the action, switch to longer compound and cumulative sentences. Pause when characters pause to maintain the illusion.


6. Closing line: End with a hook to set up next scene and convince the reader to turn the page.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

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