Youâ€™re at a restaurant. Youâ€™re having a fight with your boyfriend. Heâ€™s breaking up with you because heâ€™s fallen in love with your sister. Worse yet, your daughter. No wait, make that your mother. You begin to scream at him. â€œAre you insane? Have you seen the varicose veins on her legs?â€ He asks you to please be quiet, youâ€™re making a scene. You look around and notice everyone in the restaurant is staring at you. One of those people is your mother. When did she walk in? Oh god. Did she hear that comment about the veins?
When youâ€™re writing your novel, it helps to think in terms of making scenes. And since no one is actually watching, you donâ€™t have to worry about your mother. Really. She canâ€™t read your mind, I promise, and the files in your computer donâ€™t automatically feed into her hard drive. That also goes for fathers, ex-wives, ex-boyfriends, and ex-employers. Iâ€™m not sure about ex-psychics.
That doesnâ€™t mean your novel needs to be one big dramatic confrontation after another. By â€œsceneâ€ I really mean an interaction. It can center on an event that can be large or small. Usually it will not turn heads in a restaurant. But something needs to happen to move the plot forward.
Perhaps the most important aspect of a scene is that it takes place in â€œreal time.â€ As opposed to exposition, explanation, and flashback, a scene is â€œhappening.â€ Thatâ€™s why scenes are so engaging.
Maybe some of you are thinking that Iâ€™m just talking about the old â€œShow Donâ€™t Tellâ€ thing. I guess I am. I never liked that phrase. It confuses me. When weâ€™re writing a novel, arenâ€™t we telling a story? How do you NOT tell? You have to tell. Thatâ€™s what this whole endeavor is about, isnâ€™t it? So how do we know when itâ€™s okay to be telling, and when itâ€™s not, if in fact you are telling the whole darn thing? Who invented this â€œShow Donâ€™t Tellâ€ rule anyway?
I prefer to forget about showing and telling and think in terms of SCENE. In plays, characters might have speeches with exposition, but thereâ€™s no way around the fact that something dramatic is playing out â€œright nowâ€ before our very eyes. Unless itâ€™s a horrible play and god knows Iâ€™ve sat through enough of them.