Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Writing 3-D Scenes, Part One

by guest blogger, Linda S. Clare

Writers must master all sorts of skills, from learning how to best describe a character, to creating good dialogue to understanding grammar, spelling and usage. Whether you are writing fiction, memoir or creative nonfiction, it’s my belief that the single most important thing a writer must do is to immerse the reader in a story. Even a lot of nonfiction comes to life when a story is presented. Most of us can always use better skills at scene writing, because scene writing is integral to helping the reader connect with the story.

Today, I’d like to outline some ways you can get your reader so tangled up in your story that it’s hard to put your writing down.

In movies, you need special 3-D glasses. While Hollywood is trying to cash in on the effects of watching objects appear to fly off the screen and into your lap, as writers we have an advantage over movies: we can enter the thoughts and emotions of our POV character. Movies must resort to dubbed-in narrators. So what does writing a 3-D scene look like?

Characters and Scenes
  • Create a Strong POV Character. A scene that is multi-dimensional begins with a strong POV Character. This person is passionate about something, does not go through life settling, or being content. NO. This character wants something like a doughnut addict wants a VooDoo bacon glazed. In order to make your character 3-D, know that character intimately. Know her outward stuff, sure. But find out what the character wants. Learn the character’s secrets—the things your character is trying to hide. Your reader may not read a lot of this stuff, but you need to know and understand it.
  • Get Another Character On Stage. A scene can fall flat if the writer keeps the character alone on stage. Think of the movie “Castaway”—why did Tom Hanks’ character need Wilson? Take a look at your stuff—do you see your POV character on stage with no one to talk to? If the character can’t use dialogue and the interaction of a scene with others, that character is forced inside his head—to think us through the story feels confining, ruminative and is very difficult to do well.
  • Get Your Characters Moving. If you write many scenes where the actors are sitting around a table, eating and drinking, it may feel like real life. But real life is often boring. Get your characters off the chair and into action. When we sit around, the action is limited to mouths moving (dialogue) and the occasional lifting of the drink to the lips.
  • Make Every Scene Worthy. If you act out characters just shooting the breeze or doing mundane tasks like getting up, making coffee, showering dressing, you are wasting your effort. In every scene—and I mean every scene—you must tell a bit more of the story. That’s what is meant by “advancing the story.” No fair saying it adds color or charm. Unless it’s part of your story, don’t act it out.

Nuts and Bolts of 3-D Scenes
  • Choose Your Details. We all know we must describe the scene. The first and foremost of these is when and where the characters are meeting for the scene. If your reader loses these details, confusion reigns. I like to put the where/when as close to the beginning of the scene as I can get it. Use a broad brush to describe persons or objects.
  • Stop Chunkin that Punkin.  One of the 3-D Scene’s worst enemies is the description chunk. You write a paragraph or more about the setting or other details and plunk it smack dab at the scene’s opening. The reader isn’t going to retain that chunk for long without rereading, though and by the time the characters begin dialogue, they’ve turned to talking heads. The background sights, sounds, etc. fade very quickly from a reader’s mind. Go ahead and draft a chunk. It’s OK. But don’t leave it there.
  • Weave Instead.  If you see that your description and your action are separated, learn to weave your setting and other concrete sensory details around the action and dialogue. Remind your readers that Jane is sitting on the rug or pushing a lawn mower or dicing onions. Break up chunks (I define a chunk as anything over three or four sentences) and use them to remind your reader of the surroundings. This helps reduce the need for dialogue attributions, and keeps the entire (hence, 3-D) scene in the reader’s mind.

Linda S. Clare is the author of several nonfiction books and a novel, The Fence My Father Built, (Abingdon 2009). She teaches both fiction and nonfiction at a community college and is an expert writing advisor for George Fox University's doctoral program. Her next novel, A Sky without Stars, is part of Abingdon's Quilts of Love series, and releases in early 2014. She lives in the Northwest and blogs at www.Lindasclare.com. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Lindaclarebooks or on Twitter: @Lindasclare.

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  1. Thanks for the tips, Linda (and Edie). I don't have plans to switch gears and start writing fiction, but I'd like to work on the art of storytelling. Helpful stuff!

    1. Hi Susan! You can use mini-scenes (sometimes called anecdotes)in nonfiction to make your points more interestring. I'm sure you already do this, but perhaps the scene writing tips will help make them even better. Write On and thanks for dropping in. ~Linda Clare

    2. I just found your blog and it's so helpful! Thanks for your advice and the pitfalls to avoid. Cliches are everywhere! As a new writer, I've just really noticed this. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!


    3. Connie, thanks so much for taking time to leave a comment. Isn't it amazing how much we notice in what we read, once we begin to write! Blessings, Edie

  2. Thanks Linda and Edie. Appreciate the clear concise tips. --Particularly susceptible to Chunkin the Punkin!

  3. Another great post, Edie. Thanks, Linda!

  4. Thanks, Linda and Edie. The tips are entertaining as well as informative.

  5. Great reminders! Lately, my characters have been moving but in rather mundane ways. Time to revise and put in a little more exciting action. Thanks.