The 4 Components Necessary To Bring A Scene To Life

When writing, we all strive to bring our scenes to life, but it’s easy to forget a component.

One can have the most involved and choreographed scene, full of action and danger, but it won’t leave the readers on the edge of their seats if it’s missing the other 3 components.

One can have the most intricately described setting, that the audience can fully envision, down to the taste of the stew, but if it’s missing a component, the audience won’t care.

So. What ARE the components necessary to bring a scene to life?

1. The Active Components

These are the stage directions. Who or what is moving, who is speaking, and who is crying?

When you’re laser-focused on the plot and the action, sometimes scenes can get reduced to this. If you’re translating D&D style gaming into a novel, often, this is where you’ll start.

Off the top of my head, here’s an example I’ll build on:

John opened the door, and Susan said ‘hi,’ through her sobs.

2. The Physical Components

What does the room look like? What do the people look like? What faces are they making?

For those with a cinematic bent, or screen-writing background, it can be easy to fall into leaving scenes with active and physical components, while missing the next two.

John peered through the window framing his oak door and spied a familiar silhouette. As he opened the door, he caught a glimpse of tear-streaked cheeks glistening in the light streaming out from his foyer.

Susan shivered under his gaze, and then with a snuffle, finally spoke.

“Hi.”

3. The Sensory Components

Ignoring one’s vision, what other senses are there? This is where smells, tastes, background noises, touch and texture come into play.

For those who write lyrically, it can be easy to lose oneself in the senses and forget about the plot.

John peered through the window framing his oak door and spied a familiar silhouette. As he jiggled the deadbolt free, a whiff of her old vanilla conditioner greeted him and he caught a glimpse of tear-streaked cheeks glistening in the light streaming out from his foyer.

The cool autumn wind gusted with the telltale signs of an approaching storm while Susan shivered under his gaze. Then with a snuffle, she finally spoke.

“Hi.”

4. The Emotional Components

You can narratively evaluate and tell emotions, or you can invoke the essence of an emotion through physical responses in the character’s body or body language.

My characters like to live in their heads, which can end up with me narrating feelings instead of showing them. It’s an easy trap!

John peered through the window framing his oak door and spied a familiar silhouette he’d never expected to see again[telling]. With a gasp, his heart started to race and his palms grew clammy[showing]. How long had it been?[mental emotional response] As he jiggled the deadbolt free, a whiff of her old vanilla conditioner greeted him and he caught a glimpse of tear-streaked cheeks glistening in the light streaming out from his foyer. He had to clench the doorframe to resist the urge to take her into his arms. [invoke feeling through longed for action…]

The cool autumn wind gusted with the telltale signs of an approaching storm while Susan shivered under his gaze. She stared at his feet, hugging herself [showing her emotional state], and then, with a snuffle, she finally spoke.

“Hi.”


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I know my examples were a bit clunky, but the gist should be obvious. A scene is best when it includes all of the ingredients.

Are there any components you think I missed? Please, let me know!

 

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Author Spotlight: Tamela Ritter

Today’s Author Spotlight is: Tamela Ritter

A member of the Write By The Rails group and the author of From These Ashes

 

 


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Readers, let’s welcome Tamela, the wandering storyteller to my blog. She’s agreed to visit and share with us today some dreams, some advice, and some reading recommendations.

Tamela, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Oh man, start with the hard ones first! For a real pet? This is going to seem boring, but I’d really just like a dog. I’ve lived with dogs for most of my life, but I’ve never had one that was mine, ya know? I just really want a dog who loves me best. Lame, I know.

Oh, oh, wait, any pet? With no worries about logistics? A dolphin. Not to own really, not in a cage or anything. But seriously, how cool would it be to hang out with a dolphin? Or a unicorn? Wait, what if it turns out unicorns are sort of douches? That would suck.

Yeah, I’ll stick with a dolphin, thank you.

Puppies and dolphins? You have good taste in pets! Assuming, of course, they’re the friendly ones and not the jerk-faces. Next up, a more standard question.

What do you write and how did you get started?

I write small stories about everyday people who have been marginalized or forgotten.  I give voice to the voiceless.Or I try.How did I get started writing? I honestly don’t remember I time when I didn’t have stories in my head. I do remember I was 10 the first time I wrote one down.

I get that, Tamela, and I’m probably not the only one. Now, as readers ourselves, to find out if your tastes and preferences align with ours, next up is the all-important question — not that there’s a right or a wrong answer, just a sense of…harmonic resonance.

 

What do you like to read?

Ahhhh, easier question is what don’t I read. There’s no rhyme or reason to what I read. Right now I’m on a YA kick. I just picked up local authors’ PM Hernandez and Mara Mahan‘s books last weekend and I’m looking forward to checking them out.
I really love going to the library and pulling down books and checking them out based on their cover, their blurbs without knowing anything about the author or any buzz about the book (all the things that marketing types tell you that no one does). Makes me feel like I’m discovering a new treasure. Even if it’s not true.
Last time I found a book I loved that I thought no one else had heard of and that the whole world needed to read, it turned out that it had already been turned into a movie.
Oooops.
*pouts* Well, that answer didn’t really narrow it down for us.
*grins and winks* Good for you! Now, the next two questions are for the writers reading this blog.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

 
The oldest piece of writing advice there is, so old that it’s more a cliche than advice and it’s almost cliche to disagree with it. “Write what you know.”
Bullshit.
I mean, I get why it’s advice and there are definitely stories that could have been better told by someone who had more experience with the situation or particulars.
But I’ve found a writer only needs two things to be able to dodge this writerly rule: access to Google and a strong sense of empathy.
The empathy is for the heart and soul of the story about people who aren’t you, Google (or more specifically–research) is for the facts. In this day and age, there isn’t anything you can’t learn more about, nothing you can’t find someone willing to share their experiences about. If you don’t have a healthy sense of empathy, well, you’re probably in the wrong field anyway, so you just stick to what you know… or become a journalist.
And, of course, the flip side!

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

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writing is when we make the words, editing is when we make the words not shitty – Chuck Wendig

Or really, anything that Chuck Wendig, my foul-mouthed guru, says about the whole writing thing in general.
Tamela, thank you for taking the time to share with us. I really appreciate you stopping by and hope my readers did too. Now, did you have anything you’d like to share with us? Because it’s now…

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

My first (and only so far) published novel From These Ashes was published in 2013 by Vagabondage Press. My latest published short story, “Quantifying Momentum” can be found in The Piedmont Journal of Poetry and Fiction’s anthology Tracks.
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How To Beta-Read: One Writer’s Version

I almost entitled this “Beta-Reading: For Fun and Profit” but… I don’t usually profit. At least not monetarily.

I do a fair amount of beta-reading and/or critiquing. One can argue that beta-reading is commenting as a reader, where a critique is focused on craft-level commentary, but honestly, I do both. So, I’m not really going to break them out for the purposes of this post.

I read queries (obviously), synopses, short stories, essays, blog-posts, and, of course, novels. I’ve even been known to critique a non-fiction article, and the recipient claimed my excessive feedback useful, although frustrating because they believed they were closer to done than that…but I digress.

I beta-read for people in the writing groups I participate in, people who have beta-read for me, and for family members. (Or people who submit a query for critique to my QueryCorner at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com)

You’d probably think that my beta-reading follows the survey that I send my own beta-readers. And… you’d be wrong. I follow it about as much as my own beta-readers do.

I use it as a guideline, and I generally keep the concepts in my head, but unless specifically asked, my commentary goes a bit sideways.

That said, what does Morgan’s beta-reading feedback look like?

1 – I can’t skip line edits

Okay, that’s probably a lie. IF, (and only if) I’m sending a single paragraph of general impressions after reading a partial or a short story, I can usually restrain myself.

But? If I’m going line-by-line and putting commentary in there? You’re gonna get at least some grammar edits, word-choice suggestions, and (for right-or-wrong) some comma movement.

2 – I’ll tell you when my eyes glaze over

I am predominantly plot driven. Or emotional journey driven? I want to know what is happening to the main character, what they’re feeling about it, and what they’re going to do next.

If you dwell on backstory, elaborate descriptions, or even fling too much action at me– scene after scene–I’m gonna toss in a note saying something.

I try to be kind, especially if it’s well-written. But you’re gonna see something like, “Can you filter in what she’s doing/feeling during this?” Action filtered into description or backstory helps move the story, emotional processing helps slow the story during too much action. Finding a balance? Is hard.

Pacing is tricky, so I want to help as much as possible.

3 – I’ll point out inconsistencies

I know I’m not getting your rough draft (I hope), and when you edit, sometimes you change things in most places… I’ll point out the spots you missed. Or things you didn’t mention earlier.

4 – I’ll say when you break my suspension of disbelief

If a character starts acting inconsistently? Or wolves show up where lions should be? I’ll say something.

If something or someone doesn’t fit my view of your world, I’ll let you know. It’s up to you to delete it, change it, or set it up better so it fits.

5 – I’ll applaud well-phrased sentences

Be it description, dialogue, or narration, a clever turn of phrase or beautiful imagery will get a shout out from me.

6 – I’ll start talking to your characters

Writing fiction? I have a low bar for getting sucked into stories and swept away by characters.

I’ll start cheering for your characters, putting in guesses about untold backstory and future plot points — both for me to find out if I’m right and so you can see what sort of thoughts your set up has inspired.

And? If I stop putting in edits and start just commenting on your characters and the plot? You’ve got 100% buy-in from me. Your story, my friend, is working.


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Now, my questionnaire has more points than that, and sometimes I even remember to summarize my feelings on plot/pacing/and characterization at the end of each chapter. But, in general, this is how I edit.

Plus? I’m plot driven. Once I start, it’s unusual for it to take me more than 3 days to get through a piece, unless I don’t get time in the evening to sit down in front of my computer.


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Have you beta-read? What sort of feedback do you give?
Is there something I should be doing that I’m not? Let me know!

One Method For Incorporating Feedback In Your Writing

If you’re a writer, at some point between you putting the words down and it going out to its intended audience, you’re probably going to solicit some feedback (and if you don’t, you probably should).

Be it from one or all of these:

  • an alpha reader
  • a flock of beta readers
  • a writing group
  • a critique partner
  • a paid editor
  • an agent
  • an acquiring Editor for a publishing house
  • or your mom

you’re likely going to receive some feedback other than, “I loved it! Don’t change a thing!”

But, when that feedback is more nebulous or overarching than typos and wording, it can be tricky to know where to start.

Here are the 6 steps I follow when receiving reader feedback

Step 1 – Read the feedback

You’d think it would go without saying, but it’s easy to get ticked off three comments in, decide that the person who sent the feedback totally doesn’t get your book, your genre, and might not read your language, and storm off.

Luckily, I can calm my knee-jerk reactions by subscribing to what I call:

Morgan’s Rule Of Thirds

  • 1/3rd is line and copy edits – easy to fix or skip if it’s a stylistic thing or they don’t know what they’re talking about.
  • 1/3rd is where the reader didn’t get your story and/or your writing style. You can probably ignore these. (But, don’t delete them just yet….)
  • 1/3rd is the stuff that you thought you’d fixed, but really? You’d just painted over it and called it ‘good enough’.
    • These issues are typically related to the tricky things like:
      • motivation
      • set-up
      • emotional impact

Step 2 – Give yourself time to cool off

Sit on the feedback for a couple hours, or days, or weeks. However much time you need before you open it back up, and can face it without your ego screaming.

Step 3 – Analyse the feedback and fix the little things

Maybe this should be two steps, but as I go through, line-by-line, I usually fix the little things- even if they might get deleted later. The typos and line-edits, so that the feedback is reduced to something I can actually process, without the noise of all the little stuff.

Look not only at WHAT the feedback is saying but WHERE it’s saying it. The reader might have given you edits telling you how to fix it. They are only SUGGESTIONS, not fixes. But look at the scene, the paragraph. Maybe there is something confusing, maybe it wasn’t set up properly and that’s why the reader got confused, maybe you need to move the scene.

Is there some way that you can make it so the way you had it was inevitable — given the world, characters, and issues? Is there a better way to change it, so that the pieces come together more smoothly?

The reader might be wrong about how to fix it, but they often know WHERE something needs to be fixed.

Step 4 – Make the edits

This is where you make the complicated changes — cutting or moving scenes or characters, fixing pacing, adding tension, condensing backstory.

Whatever you’ve decided needs to be done — taking suggestions and doing with them as you will.

Step 5 – Reread and blend the new stuff with the old

Whether you’ve used the suggested wording from your reader or your own phrasing, edits don’t always fit in smoothly with the rest of the manuscript.

After you’ve agonized over the feedback, debated how to integrate it, and finessed it with all of your skills, it’s still gonna need a bit more polish.

You’re gonna need to re-read the lead up THROUGH the outro of the sections you’ve revised. Along the way, you’re looking for:

  • continuity errors
  • awkward phrasing
  • scene pacing
  • repetitious paragraphs or phrases (my favorite)
    • The number of times I’ve added a paragraph to emphasize something, then found I’d already had it in there, nearly word for word a page later — where it fit better in the pacing… Well, let’s just say it’s more than a handful of times.

Step 6 – Send it out again

I like to send it to 2 types of people

  1. People who have read it before, to make sure I didn’t break anything
  2. A new reader, to make sure the confusion points were actually fixed

I write fantasy, so there’s a lot of world building involved, but even if you don’t, you may want to do this. An old reader can spot a lot, but they can’t tell if you’re introducing everything in the right order — soon enough as to minimize confusion, but slow enough as to not overwhelm the reader.

You can only have someone read your story for the first time, once. After that, your world starts to become familiar territory.

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And that’s it. That’s my editing process. For each and every round.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this post – ’cause I’m ready for step 5 with my current revisions!


Do you have any editing tricks that I missed?

Anything you prefer to do differently?