Scenes are the building blocks of the long story.
One simple step can save your next scene.
Even with the loosest of plot outlines, authors usually have an idea of the next thing that can happen. But there are always options. Refer to the action or insight in a narrative bridge? Bring it on stage by itself? Tuck the information bit by bit into several scenes?
“Forward the plot” is the usual scene advice. But even following that criteria it’s easy to write tepid, low-interest scenes. So how do we sort out the on-target and meaningful next sequence?
Let your intuition help
Here’s a quick way to help you open the right door into the next scene: Give it a title.
It doesn’t need to be catchy or meaningful to anyone else. But to you, it reflects the dramatic essence of this sequence. Examples from my work in progress:
Blood on the silver screen
Breaking into the sanatorium
Having to beg
To take advantage of your intuition, do the naming quickly. Does the title speak to you in shorthand, reminding you of the deep currents of your story? If so, maybe that’s the right scene–dramatic if possible, or at least inherently interesting. If you have trouble nailing the title, take it as a diagnostic warning. Or if the title doesn’t sing to you. Such as:
Nina takes the coach to town
Drowning his sorrows at Scotty’s bar
Logically, Nina might have to get to town. Or your main character might well be upset after losing his job. But these titles, if they reflect the heart of it, beg you not to bring this material on stage.
The malicious meander.
Will it hurt if you have a scene of the major character drowning his sorrows in a bottle of tequila? Yes, if nothing else happens, if the insights aren’t crucial. The coffee-cup-in-hand scene where the kindly supporting character feels badly about the major character’s setback. The instinctive title is perfect: Coffee and empathy.
Um, maybe pass on that one.
Many writing decisions lie in wait: the beats of the scene, the escalation, the pay off. But an apt title allows you to make a quick judgment of whether the next few pages will be worth the ink and the sweat.
Therefore: help yourself avoid the malicious meander and the boring plot chunk. The next time you start a scene, try giving your idea a title.
For more on scene-writing, my posts:
Writing in Scenes, part 1
Writing in Scenes, part 2