Raise the Quality of Your Scenes with This Checklist Item

“My 16 years in radio drama has influenced me. You only have 45 minutes, and 7000 words, to tell a story, so every scene has to have a point.” —Rachel Joyce

checklist-154274_1280

Most novelists who have a scene checklist look for at least:Where,_When,_Who,_What,_Why,_How^_-_NARA_-_534144

  • A goal
  • A conflict
  • Increased motivation/stakes.
  • The Who, What, Where, When, and Why
  • The 5 senses
  • Engaging dialog
  • Tight, clear sentences
  • No clichés
  • Active voice

 

Debra Dixon pushes us to go further. She instructs in GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict that we justify the existence of each scene. She holds that the scene should have at least three reasons to remain in the book.

by mitchlee83 Cut or keep the scene.
by mitchlee83
Cut or keep the scene.

Three Reasons for a Scene to Exist

First for Reason 1, Ms. Dixon says the scene should do at least one of the GMC jobs below:

1,  “Dramatically illustrate a character’s progress toward the goal or provide an experience which changes the character’s goal.”

2.  “Bring a character into conflict with opposing forces.”

3.  “Provide a character with an experience that strengthens his motivation or changes his motivation.”

Then Ms. Dixon challenges us to choose at least two other reasons of our own design to include the scene in our novel. She gives several popular reasons, such as:

  • “introduce a new character”
  • “reveal secrets”
  • “speed the pacing”
Painting by Vladimir Loukitch
Painting by Vladimir Loukitch

So, I randomly chose a scene from the Regency, Accidental Fiancée, by Mary Moore. Here’s what I found:

  1. Progress toward the goal: The hero and heroine discuss possible solutions and obstacles to saving their reputations and avoiding destroying the heroine’s sister’s presentation this season.
  1. Conflict: The heroine isn’t cooperating fully with the hero, a rake, because he took a liberty in the last scene to prove a point.
  1. Other Reason 1: The scene gives us a glimpse that the hero is less rakish than he puts on.
  1. Other Reason 2: After much conflict in this and the prior scene, this one ends with the hero providing us some comic relief.

Now I know why the scene engaged me.

Hopefully I include at least three reasons for my scenes. But to make sure I do, I’m adding Ms. Dixon’s suggestion to my checklist.

Make sure you have three reasons for your scene to exist. Click to tweet.

What are other reasons you might include a scene in your books?

You Should Rethink the Coincidences in Your Stories

“Coincidence cannot replace motivation.” — Debra Dixon

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve been reading Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Her discussion about coincidences spoke to me.

I wanted a scene between my hero and his widowed sister-in-law, the heroine, concerning an ugly secret they share. Their low opinions of each other cause them to avoid each other’s company.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1.  A solution: At an apartment complex, the heroine hears bad news regarding the secret. The hero drives by and sees her exit. He stops to talk to her, which irks her.

2.  Why it doesn’t work. Ms. Dixon might say something like this: “The reader will roll her eyes, Zoe. She’ll want to know why the hero stops to talk to the heroine when you’ve already shown he’s uncomfortable around her and glad he’ll never have to help her again. He’d more likely pretend he didn’t see her.”

 The hero has no motivation, no good reason, to stop and talk to her.

3.  The needed stake. Fortunately, I developed a prior scene between the hero and his mother. He mentions he’s glad God’s one-time call for him to help his sister-in-law is over. His mother is upset the heroine has been distancing herself from the family. She thinks her son is God’s answer to draw the heroine back. She implores the hero to befriend the heroine.

The hero loves his mother and dislikes her being upset, and him feeling guilty. So, he’s motivated to contact the heroine. 

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4.  A more satisfying solution. The hero knows if he calls his sister-in-law she’ll invent an excuse to avoid him. So, he’s motivated to drop in on the heroine. But he sees her car leaving the parking lot. He doesn’t want to disappoint his mother when she asks again if he’s befriended the heroine. So, he’s motivated to follow her. At an apartment complex, she enters before he can reach her. He decides to wait awhile for her to exit. He’ll ask her to dinner, and if she declines, he can tell his mother he honestly tried.

This solution gives the hero a reason to meet the heroine at the complex.

5.  Why Motivation helps tension. If the two bumped into each other, the heroine would have little reason to think he’s trying to make her life miserable.

In the first solution above, the heroine and the reader would be baffled that he stopped to talk to the heroine without a good reason.

The more satisfying solution supplies tension and growth:

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When the heroine appears distressed as she exits the apartment, sympathy forms in him. She’s surprised with his presence. She declines dinner and demands why he’s there. With her attitude, his sympathy wanes. He privately blames his mother for getting him into this situation. Frustrated, he blurts his promise to his mother. This, the bad news she received inside the apartment, and her need to tell someone causes her to weep. Pricked by guilt at his selfishness, he realizes his mother is right. The heroine needs a friend. They talk.

 

Ms. Dixon teaches more about different kinds of coincidences. I recommend her book.

Why coincidences hurt your story and how to fix them. Click to tweet.

 What kinds of coincidences in a book bother you?

Calculated Risk by Zoe M. McCarthyApril 9-10 enter a chance to win Calculated Risk on author Sharon Srock’s blog.