How do writers move a story along?
As an author, crafting a page-turning scene engages readers and brings your story to life. A well-structured scene has a clear beginning, middle, and end. It should also have a clear point of view.
Each scene has a function in the story, whether it’s to introduce a new character, reveal a plot twist, or build suspense. If a scene doesn’t serve a purpose, it should be cut. (I usually save all the things I cut into a folder. I mostly write narrative nonfiction, so it’s hard to let go! I’ve spent hours and hours researching, and writing, and rewriting. Sometimes, I do go back and use a phrase I love, but it’s rare. At least I have peace of mind knowing that I can go back if I want to, that all that hard work isn’t completely trashed.)
7 Tools for Your Toolbox
1) To create a scene that resonates with your audience, it’s important to think like a director and include all the elements that make a scene. Thinking like a director means taking a visual approach to your writing. Imagine that you’re watching your scene unfold in a “movie behind your eyes” and ask yourself these questions:
- What are the characters doing?
- How are the characters acting or moving?
- What do they see in his/her surroundings?
- What are they wearing? What are they holding?
2) Using sensory details and comparisons from the character’s point of view helps paint a detailed picture, immersing your readers in the scene and making them feel like they’re a part of the action. Author Heather Montgomery shared this tip with me at the NCTE conference last November. (Thank you, Heather!)
3) Using vivid verbs is important when writing. Action words in an active tense create a sense of urgency in your story.
4) Writing with emotion creates a powerful connection between the reader and the story. Emotions change based on the character’s experiences and reactions. Keep the character’s perspective in mind while writing. Try understanding his/her/their emotions, motivations, beliefs, and worldview. Writing with emotions from within will help your writing stand out.
5) Dialogue can reveal how characters interact with each other. Readers who connect with a likeable character will be cheering for the character to meet his/her goal. Remember, “likeable” doesn’t mean perfect. Characters have flaws and weaknesses to overcome.
6) Moving the plot forward requires an event that is worthy of attention. This can be a physical or an emotional event, but it should force the character to react and make a decision in an important way. I’ve been studying the motivation/reaction pattern of emotion. It’s helped me organize plot points better in my works-in-progress. (I’ll share more on this in a later post.)
7) Pacing and rhythm give the scene a pulse. Choose short and long sentences and words that allow a natural flow between descriptive language and tension. During the pandemic, I studied 20 different kinds of sentences with author Amy Laundrie. The examples we found and analyzed in our favorite children’s books was insightful. Word choice and sentence length create the voice and tone, and can change the pace and rhythm. Looking closely at each type of sentence- it’s structure- it’s eye-opening! (Thanks, Amy!)
Open a few of your favorite children’s books. Be on the lookout for these 7 tools while you’re reading a scene. How does the author use the tools in his/her book? When you read those lines / those scenes, how does it make you feel as a reader? Do you want to turn the page and keep reading? Why?
By incorporating these elements into your scenes, you can create a story that resonates with readers and keeps them turning the pages…which is what we all strive for as authors.
Sorry it’s been a while. I’ll have a Spring update soon, too.