Writing Scenes – what is the perfect snapshot?

Recently a photographer came to take a picture of my children to accompany an article for the newspaper in which I had been quoted. He took many, many pictures, altering the configurations and the props. In the end, two photographs of the very many were chosen. The photographer had created far more material than he would eventually use but this gave him a choice of the best for his purpose.
Then today I noticed this wonderful tweet from @johannaharness (http://www.johannaharness.com)
I’ve rewritten this last scene 5 times now. It’s like rearranging furniture in a room. I have to move it to see if it’s right. #amwriting

From this tweet it sounds as if Joanna approached the scene from different angles, or shifted the emphasis slightly each time.
One suggestion when writing a scene is to write it from each of the protagonists point of view to see the different nuances of the scene and what is most important to each of the characters. Of course you will probably have already have chosen a particular point of view for your book but what you reveal about a situation should always be done against the counterpoint of what you don’t mention or what the protagonist does not find noteworthy. A child might have noticed the cup cakes piled high on the table, her father the new ride on lawn mower through the open door, her mother the droop of the hostesses mouth. Or there may be somebody present who should be noticed or spoken to but isn’t. Now we want to know why.
As Claire King’s excellent article on the intent of writing explains it, everything we write should mean something, should add layers.
Whatever view you take in a particular scene tells the story in a particular way, suggests something. We come to know and love the style of certain film directors who choose particular unique ways of telling stories using different angles, shot types, character juxtapositions and cutaways to significant objects.
Our material is words and characters too, how we place them, the way they speak, the objects we conjur. Some of this, as for film directors, is intuitive and becomes a refined skill as we improve as writers. But it’s important to keep in our minds the visual, mental and emotional consideration of which is the best snapshot of the scene we are presenting, which material is vital and which should be left behind.

One comment

  1. I’m honored you mentioned me, Alison!

    In my further adventures in plotting well, I’m exploring this idea of creating scenes that motivate my characters to go where they need to go. If I create a situation that motivates my characters to go elsewhere, the story ends up off track. It may still be a great story, but it’s not the story I intended to tell.

    I was several scenes past the problem scene, blown away by this great new turn of events, when I realized the novel was going to end about 20K words too soon. It was a fantastic ending and I struggled with my desire to let it stand. But in the end? I had 20K more words I wanted to write and some really great scenes never made it to the page.

    Like knitting mistakes that can’t be fixed, I ripped my novel back to where the problem began–about 5,000 words back. And that’s the scene I’d been writing and rewriting. That’s where I was when I tweeted that line this morning.

    I kept my characters running their lines–reacting to this turn of events and that–until today, finally, they ran screaming from the scene–in the right direction.

    I’m going to enjoy writing these next 20,000 words. I worked hard for the pleasure of keeping them.



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