QUESTIONS: Page-Turning Scenes

I’m revising like mad, but because I’m behind my planned completion dates on both SILVER DOOR and HOW TO WRITE PAGE-TURNING SCENES, I’m going to multitask a little here.

If you have any questions about writing scenes, or if you have a specific problem you trip over when you write scenes, please post them here.

I know what I think is important in writing scenes, and I’ve already outlined that and have it ready to go when SILVER DOOR goes to the editor. I don’t know, however, if I’ve missed some of the things you need or want to know.

Just let me know.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

42 comments… add one
  • Darkwriter Mar 21, 2008 @ 17:39

    I have a question for Page Turning Scenes: The structure of my novel is flashbacks mixed with current events-think Highlander, Usual Suspects. Naturally its giving me a little bit of a headache with pacing and such. Any ideas on how to keep it flowing?

  • Arabellatrix Mar 21, 2008 @ 17:37

    What do you do when you’re writing a really important, emotion-filled scene (whether it’s anger, excitement, sadness, etc.) and you’re feeling great and getting it down and you feel pleased with it-and then you look back over it later and don’t feel any of the same emotion? I have a problem with assuming the reader has the same knowledge and feelings about something as I do, I think.

  • Leah Mar 21, 2008 @ 15:16

    Looks like a lot of good ground has been covered with the questions already asked, but I’d like to throw in a couple specific queries of my own, if it’s not too late. 🙂

    – Both beginning and ending scenes. I don’t like starting a scene with a chunk of exposition (The sun was shining and the sky was blue over the city… blablabla), but I don’t want to start it too abruptly, either. What are good ways to begin scenes… any kind of scene, really — action, conversation, transition, etc?

    And like DasteRoad touched on, I sometimes have difficulties figuring out where and how to end a scene. Help on this would be greatly appreciated.

    – Keeping scenes interesting, no matter what kind of scene they are. All scenes gotta be interesting to keep the reader reading, right? How to do this, especially when it’s a scene that needs to be in the story but that isn’t that interesting to write? (or should the scene even BE in there, if it isn’t interesting to write?)

    Forgive my longwindedness, and thank you so much for doing this. Looking forward to it!!

  • Annalisa Mar 21, 2008 @ 14:56

    It’s still Friday, so I hope it’s not too late to ad my questions:

    1) I’ve noticed that in the most suspenseful books I’ve ever read (including yours, Holly!), at some point in the book the protagonists are trapped in an impossible situation. They are hemmed in by danger on all sides; their ways out are all blocked. Yet somehow, they get out of it alive. How do you devise such scenarios? Basically, how do you make life hard for your characters?

    2) Also, suspenseful stories introduce a lot of questions and then take their sweet time answering them. In fantasy these questions can include a lot of invented concepts and creatures (Harry Potter), and in any kind of story there are characters with mysterious motives, events that happen for unknown reasons, and dangers that come seemingly out of nowhere. How do I learn to think this way? Whenever I introduce mysterious/unexplained elements to my stories, they are either really obvious or they’re totally crazy.

    Thanks for doing this, Holly! I am eagerly awaiting this workshop, whenever you get the chance to do it. Meanwhile, just a few pages into your Character Clinic my mind was blown and I quickly fixed the water-weak beginning of my novel. Ahh, feels so much better now.

  • Inkblot Mar 21, 2008 @ 1:02

    I haven’t read the entire list of suggestions here, so I do hope I’m not repeating, but I note a lot of people have asked questions relating to How Much Conflict.

    My question is related to this, and is very simple…

    Transition scenes. Help?

    😀

    My first novel attempt didn’t include any at all, and thus confused the heck out of the poor readers. I’ve had a few more attempts since then, but still can’t quite get the feel for what makes a good transition scene – so if you could include some hints on that that would be incredibly wonderful! 🙂

  • laubaineworld Mar 20, 2008 @ 22:16

    Actually, I have two questions.

    My question is more about placement in the scene. When you have multiple people and objects in the scene, is there a line of overkill when making sure the reader is ‘seeing’ the placement of said people and objects in the scene?

    Second question – Obviously one doesn’t want to focus merely on narrative for placement when dialogue is occurring between the characters in the scene, but what is the best what to handle dialogue plus placement as the characters move around without the overuse of dialogue tags?

    I realize they are not the normal stuff, but it’s something I’m dealing with right now in my current manuscript. I’ve got a group of people and their motion & interaction with objects in the scene as well as dialogue am concerned with proper handling in the scene.

    I don’t want to OVER handle, but I have been guilty of not enough description of what’s occurring with motion and interaction in the past.

    I hope you are able to work these two questions into your course Holly. As I mentioned, I’m dealing with right now in my current manuscript and want to strike the proper balance.

    Thanks in advance.

    Siana

  • Jaye M Mar 20, 2008 @ 19:34

    I like some of the other questions that have been presented, but I have one that I do not think has been addressed. I have a minor character whom I want to introduce in a short scene in the first 1/4 of the novel. This scene presents him to the two MCs, but his appearance doesn’t feel like it moves the scene forward except for showing him in a particular light. Much later he will play a minor role in assisting the MC. Is the introduction of a character and his brief interaction w/ the MCs enough to move a scene forward?

    BTW–I’m looking forward to what you’re developing for us, Holly! THANKS!

  • WolfFaerie Mar 20, 2008 @ 11:13

    Dear Holly: I’ve been using flashback to help tell my story from one person’s point of view for another person’s benefit. For awhile now, my use of the flashback has been really long but I’m not sure how complete it without destroying what is already written. So here’s my question- when is the right time to use the flashback and still keep the story moving forward as well?

    Thanks in advance for all the help and advice too.

    Angie

  • MattScudder Mar 20, 2008 @ 9:32

    Another one (or two):

    -The difference between candy bar scenes and other scenes and how do you write a book that is ALL candy bar scenes, which seems to be the ideal.

    -Also, tips for starting scenes and ending scenes.

  • Lissbirds Mar 20, 2008 @ 1:48

    Here’s what I would like to know how to do:

    –Create complex/layered scenes. All my scenes seem to have one conflict/motivation/purpose. They are very simplistic, and only one thing is going on at a time. Perhaps this comes from focusing on short stories for so long, but I’d like to learn how to complicate things.

    –Scene length. My scenes are awfully short (for the above reason). I get to about 4 or 5 pages, and then I seem to get distracted, my characters are doing nothing, and I give up.

    –Suspsense. How can you create suspsense in a scene? How do you know when to withhold information from the reader? Or when to give information away?

    Just a few suggestions. Can’t wait until the course is available!

    –Melissa

  • LisaM Mar 20, 2008 @ 0:54

    I’m interested in

    – learning how to incorporate setting and atmosphere into the scene without slowing pace or dimishing tension;

    – knowing how (or if) viewpoint affects the scene and how to choose whether to use the same type throughout (e.g. 3rd person close) or to mix and match;

    – finding out if there is a method of working out which of two (or three) ideas for the unfolding of a scene is the one to run with _before_ writing reams and reams, and then having to cut it all out when you reach a dead end.

    Thanks Holly.
    Lisa

  • djmills Mar 19, 2008 @ 17:52

    One more question…. what percentages do you work on for dialog, desc, action, emotion and senses for each scene?

    I was taught not to have too much description because the reader’s eyes will glaze over, however, I analyzed out L E Modesitt, Jr, (I love his stories) and he averages for each scene approx. 25% Action, 25% Dialog, 38% Description, 7% senses and 3% emotion. Obviously the more scenes I analyze the more the percentages will change, but could you advise what you strive for in each scene.

    Thanks and looking forward to Page-turning Scenes workshop.

  • Menelmacar Mar 19, 2008 @ 15:18

    Several people have touched on how to present the world/culture/development information they have created into scenes. My question is regarding the pacing of the presentation over several scenes and most specifically at the beginning of the story, i.e. how can/should it be approached?

    I keep re-writing my first couple of chapters because I continue to, (for lack of a better word), vomit the information about the world, because of course everyone needs to know about all this cool stuff I’ve created.

    Help finding the tight-rope over the deep pool of information I’ve created and some hints on walking that rope with a good balancing bar so I only get my feet wet, instead of jumping in over my head, would be greatly appreciated.

  • bonnielala Mar 19, 2008 @ 13:43

    I’d love the course to include a checklist of elements that page-turning scenes need to have.

    I’d also like to touch on how you keep a scene moving along swiftly when one character is trying to get information from another, and the second character is resisting.

  • Fierytale Mar 19, 2008 @ 13:02

    I have a question for you – not sure if it’s broader than ‘page turning scenes’… In one of your online pieces, you write about needing three crucial things in a novel – one of these was ‘coherence’. I get told I write great prose, great characters, even great scenes which are lovely little entities. Problem is they’re like beads on a necklace which don’t sit together. In other words, the narrative isn’t coherent; and I get the feeling that something is going wrong in the way I approach my scenes to create this.

    So the question is: how do I write scenes which sit coherently with the whole – with the scenes that go before and after? (I’ve used your plotting e-book, which helped me understand what scenes are, why we need them, and how to add conflict, and which most importantly added a lot of fun and fizz to my writing life.) So it’s sort of broader than a plotting question, yet not sure if it’s a page-turning scene question. But understanding how to eliminate some incoherence from the get-go this would be fab-tastic.

    (Also, love the idea of the thinking sideways question which someone has already posted on.)

  • Kate Mar 19, 2008 @ 12:57

    Holly, _Talyn_ broke my heart on several levels. So much depth and emotion there, it killed me to put it down. (It still kills me, every time I read it). Maybe this doesn’t count as a page turning question, but I think the emotion you infused in _Talyn_ was one of the major page-turning factors for me. How do you do that? How do you get that incredible range of emotion?

  • Zoe Mar 19, 2008 @ 12:47

    I’d like to know how to make scenes begin and end smoothly. Once I get into the meat of a scene I’m okay, but the start and the finish tend to be either too slow or too abrupt.

    Also, how much thinking (on the part of the character) is too much? I don’t want to clog up my scenes with inner monologues, but (especially since my stories are heavy on inner conflict) I also don’t want to neglect the characters’ inner lives. What’s a good balance, and what’s a good way to weave it in?

  • InkGypsy Mar 19, 2008 @ 12:43

    OK – 2 more questions:

    1) Any chance of applying that ‘thinking sideways’ thing you mentioned to scenes (and how do we do that)?

    2) I get how to keep things tense with a suspense or action plot in general but how do you keep the pages turning in say a more comedic or romantic or general fiction/fantasy story without resorting to the suspense thing? EG. I can write funny articles and short stories but when I try to write lighter fiction (or something other than the mystery/suspense approach) I either get bored (which probably means my reader will) or it turns into a suspense type thing because I want to keep things moving and ends up being all serious again. So, essentially, how do you keep the pages turning without the suspense/thriller/mystery/horror aspect?

    I am SO looking forward to this course! Yee-hah!

  • wisemoon Mar 19, 2008 @ 12:20

    Several people have touched on aspects of this, but I’ll go ahead with my question because it has a particular focus that hasn’t been addressed specifically yet.

    Writing fantasy, and having done the extensive worldbuilding described in the Creat a Culture Clinic…how do you work in elements of your worldbuilding and history and language while still writing scenes that move at a brisk pace? I find that I am constantly slowing down to explain this bit or that bit of something and I get hung up on it. I try telling myself “I’ll fix that in the rewrite” but frankly, I’m not sure if I know how to fix it even when I go back.

    So…how to fit exposition/description in when it has to do specifically with history of the world, or explanations of culture–without slowing things down to a turtle’s pace.

  • WanderingAuthor Mar 17, 2008 @ 21:03

    Whenever I try to write a page-turning scene, I have one of two problems. Either I get so carried away with action I forget any description, or I get so carried away in describing the details that I slow down the action. How do you work at least a minimal amount of description in with action?

    Also, if I manage to fit in something exciting, it seems to be a tiny nugget buried in long, boring pages leading up to it. I understand about conflict, but how do I fill in the background leading up to the action without putting my readers to sleep?

  • prayleen Mar 14, 2008 @ 10:59

    I get how to choose good “candy bar” action, and I have plot cards and the like to plan that. But I think I’m missing something–how/where to I plan and track the reader payoffs for a scene, a chapter, a whole book?

    It seems that every time I write something longer than a scene, I loose the rhythm of payoffs and my endings fall flat because of it.

  • KalevTait Mar 13, 2008 @ 17:33

    Sometimes my writing just flows, but at other times I feel like it’s just a sequence of events… this and then this and then this and then this.

    What can I do about the later, or am I best just writing through it and dealing with it in the revision (which also brings up the whole question of not just writing page turning scenes, but revising page turning scenes)

  • jhil189 Mar 12, 2008 @ 10:35

    I try to follow the advice to start the scene late and get out early, but I have a hard time identifying those points. Maybe this is part of being good at *twisty thinking*? I can come up with 42 ways to do the scene and never know which one is the best one.

  • Bethanie Mar 12, 2008 @ 9:59

    I write various flavors of fantasy, so one of my biggest challenges when it comes to keeping my scenes ‘page turning’ is walking the fine line between world building and info dumping. I think I tend to fall back on the ‘As you know Bob’ technique entirely too much for that and for explaining complicated plot points, which results in a lot of long scenes with people talking instead of doing stuff. Any discussion, suggestions or exercises for other ways to info dump – without actually info dumping – while keeping scenes moving forward and interesting would be really helpful and much appreciated.

  • NancyB Mar 12, 2008 @ 8:40

    I guess my question relates to what you wrote in the Plot Clinic about change. How much change is enough? For a big “decision” scene, I get it. For a big “reveal” scene, I get it. But what about those scenes where it’s mostly characterization, or scenes where you’re just moving the story forward towards the next big thing? That gets a little fuzzy for me, and I wind up waffling over whether to leave a scene in or hack it out. But if I hack it out, the pace gets too…spikey, instead of undulating. All sudden, it’s all big events and no transitions. Guess I could use a little more clarification here.

  • wolverine Mar 12, 2008 @ 6:25

    I find that if I define exactly what I want out of a scene (eg, ‘Char1 argues with Char2 until one/both suddenly realise that they are arguing for the same thing, and begin to regard each other differently), that it’s very… short. I write out pretty much exactly what the scene summary is, without much else, and it seems too sparse. However, when I set the setting and a possible conflict or two, or just put two volatile characters together, my scenes are longer and more interesting, but with more rambling. How to get all of a decent length, interesting and fulfilling a conflict?

    Wolverine

  • InkGypsy Mar 11, 2008 @ 20:55

    Those ‘quiet’ scenes where the character is alone and thinking…

    I get the conflict, moving the story forward thing no worries BUT I get stumped, ie. second guess myself, when I have one of those internal monologue/reflection/solo type scenes in which very little action takes place. I write what I’m interested in and am pretty good at finishing on a cliff-hanger but how do you know when to stop these ‘reflections’ and what to limit them to? I keep it thematic and relevant to both the story and where I’m up to in the plot but I’ve noticed in a few novels (and podcasted novels) I’ve read/listened to recently that while some scenes like this are great and make you feel like the story is still moving along, others, though similar, seem to grind the story to a halt and I’m impatiently waiting for something to happen. I don’t know how to check my own scenes to make sure I’m keeping my reader hooked (because my writing is all so interesting to me personally!).

    Also – similarly – those scenes where you want things to slow down a little after a break-neck pace. How do you find the right balance in giving the reader the kind of breather that lets them reflect without letting them go put the book down – or should I even be concerned about this? (I’ve written for stage and screen previously and these sorts of scenes are a must but there I have a captive audience that are being told the story in a specific time-frame so maybe it isn’t relevant.. ?)

  • BirthdayPirate Mar 11, 2008 @ 20:05

    My biggest problem is making the conflict obvious throughout the scene. I tend to get so focused on little conversations that the characters are supposed to have as transitions into the actual point of the scene that I end up writing pages of stuff that is just sort of boring. Even when they do get to the point, I often start wandering away on some interesting-seeming path. So, conflict, definitely.

  • fwilson Mar 11, 2008 @ 19:52

    I know most scenes are used to advance the action and plot and to delineate character personality traits but how do you determine, besides intuition, what is a suitable scene? Do you decide on a “mini-theme” for that particular scene, build the scene with a beginning, middle, and end writing with that in mind? And, how do you determine what scenes will be necessary when first blocking out the story? Okay, I think I’ve used my question quota for the day. I look forward to seeing your finished course. – Frank

  • djmills Mar 11, 2008 @ 19:26

    No one has mentioned emotion, only action and description, so I would love to see what you say about emotion in scenes, either from Main Character’s POV thoughts or third party POV watching body language or action of MC to get point across.

    And as peaceheather mentioned, in your plot course you recommend a sentence for each scene. In one sentence for a scene ‘Sam hunts Mica with a sniper rifle as she flees up the mountain towards wilderness.’ Well, what is the conflict? I could do a book of scenes with a hunter and prey. the fact she is hunted, or is it that Mica will get caught = conflict, or then she gets shot = cliffhanger for next scene? As you can see, I am still a beginner, and can’t quite get sentences including conflict either.

    I, too, am available to beta-test.

  • katsenjammer Mar 11, 2008 @ 16:56

    I forgot. Also available for beta-testing.

  • crowbabe74 Mar 11, 2008 @ 16:18

    When I’m writing a scene, I strive to ‘show the reader’, not ‘tell the reader.’ I try to use dialogue to convey the mood of the scene, instead of a bunch of description, thinking that the scene will be more interesting if the reader can fill in the blanks of what is going on in the scene, based on what my characters are saying. What I am wondering is, is there a way to know when you’re striking the right balance of exposition and dialogue, before you’ve given the copy over your designated critiquer(I may have just made that word up…)?

  • DasteRoad Mar 11, 2008 @ 15:18

    Let’s see… I often have issues with skipping over stuff. For instance, let’s say the characters are on a journey, and during the first day they simply get from point A to point B, with nothing really story-changing happening. At the end of the day, though, they make an unexpected meeting that leads them to discover something bad (or whatever). Since nothing much happens during the journey, it wouldn’t make sense to describe it in great detail, so I decide to brush past it and write a short description of the journey, that ties the narration to the scene with the unexpected meeting. Even knowing this, I found I have a nasty tendency to get lost in detail while writing these “connection” paragraphs: it’s like I feel the need to always “fill” more space to give the idea of the passing of the time. I realize that filler space in a novel reads awful, so I’m trying hard to fight it. I was hoping you could have some advice on how to keep this kind of descriptions straight to the point, so that they help to set the mood and understand the situation better, instead of feeling like aimless wandering or filler space.

    I also have issues when it comes to put an end to a scene. For instance, I’ve been struggling with a scene in which the key conflict is, to put it simply, “Main Character makes a very important decision”. There is another decision, however, that must be made: it’s less life-changing than the first one, but it can be thought of as a “further step”, and it makes sense that it happens in the same scene, as a continuation. The thing that bugged me is that I felt the need to end the scene after the first, very big decision, but the character had to make that “further step” and separating it into its own scene looked silly. Now I decided to just make a slightly larger scene in which both things happen, and I feel like I’ve lost lots of time obsessing over “what makes a scene a scene” and trying to make it “perfect”, losing track of what really was important (mainly, that it was only natural that one change followed the other). I was hoping for some advice on similar situations, and more in general, on how to “merge” two following scenes in a smooth-flowing way.

  • MattScudder Mar 11, 2008 @ 14:41

    My scenes feel anemic to me. I try to plan for scenes of about 2000 words, but by the time I’m done revising, I’ve whittled them down to nothing. I don’t know if I need more conflict, more description, more…something. Or if this is just the way I write scenes. But if I can’t beef up my scenes, I’m going to have to come up with a lot more freakin’ plot. (Please don’t make me!)

    Of course, I want longer/beefier scenes that aren’t padded and boring.

  • dpace17 Mar 11, 2008 @ 14:12

    As I haven’t been involved with scene creation much yet, I’m sure I’ll have all the above questions and more, but at this time, nothing stands out.

    I would love to be a beta tester.

  • katsenjammer Mar 11, 2008 @ 14:01

    One of my problems is, how do you know the scene moves the story forward? I, too, wrote in discrete scenes, and kind of string them together, but I never know if what I am writing, no matter how dramatic, is actually helping the story. I end up throwing away more than half of what I write, and it just seems wasteful to me. The other problem is, my stories tend to have elements of mystery, and I can’t seem to plant the clues without going”thud! here’s a clue…”. Sigh.

  • pugh7755 Mar 11, 2008 @ 13:01

    I’m also available for beta testing. I purchased Create A Plot Clinic a few days ago, and I have to say it’s the best ebook or book I have ever read on writing. I’d love to be a part of the next workshop.

  • Gabriele Mar 11, 2008 @ 12:48

    Mighty, try if it works for you to just write ‘she threw X against the wall’ in the first draft and go back and insert details about X in the revision. That way you don’t lose the impact of the scene.

    I do that with dialogue. I write it like a play, with very little additonal action or speech tags, and then go back and edit all those action and description layers in. Though I write in scenic entities out of order, so I go back when I’m done with the dialogue of one scene, not after finishing an entire first draft. To a lesser extent, it works with battle scenes as well, albeit I tend to have some layers (mostly visual) in there from the first.

  • peaceheather Mar 11, 2008 @ 12:38

    Does a scene HAVE to have conflict in it? How do you define conflict? Your plot clinic talks about the “series of events that move the story forward” – what in your mind constitutes enough “forward” to begin a new scene? Don’t the scenes need to blend into one another?

  • BklynWriter929 Mar 11, 2008 @ 11:24

    My question is about defining conflict in a scene. How do I know if I have enough conflict? What if it is just a telling scene?

  • mighty_mite Mar 11, 2008 @ 11:21

    One issue I have when writing scenes is that I trip over a detail, and then lose my momentum. For instance, I try to write a scene in which two characters are having an argument that leads to a fight. One of them picks something up off of a table and hurls it at the other. For some reason it always happens that my brain gets stuck here – what did he pick up? Is it important? Even if it’s not, how heavy is it? Did it dent the wall? Shatter on impact? Why was it in the room? And a thousand other tiny details that don’t really mean anything. Sure, they’d enhance the scene if I knew, but by the time I give up and leave a space, I’ve lost the drive that picking the dratted thing up gave my character and I have to go back and find the heat of the argument again. And usually by then, my precious writing time has evaporated and I’ll have to come back another day. Is there an easy way to ‘drop it’, ignore the insignificant, and move on with the scene? Or should I try harder to set the stage completely before the characters enter the room?

  • implet Mar 11, 2008 @ 11:16

    Still need a beta tester? -Connie.

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