Scenes to the Rescue!

by henandinkblots

Show don’t tell. Buzz words for all seasons. Every critique group tosses them back and forth. Every conference presenter tolls their virtues. Every editor and agent uses them in rejection notes and revision letters. I confess, I have a manuscript from Erzsi with “show don’t tell” dotting its pages.

But what does it mean to show a story rather than tell it?

Sometimes, show don’t tell means you’ve been lazy and failed to provide rich enough sensory details to entice your reader into the action. Get some sleep and revise in the morning.

More often, it means you character tells the whole story, and you have failed to write it in movie-like scenes. Writers who use first-person narrators are especially prone to this. If you’re writing YA, beware. Yes, use first person present tense. That is what editor’s want. But, examine your manuscript. Are there big blocks of narration unbroken by dialogue? That’s telling. Even if your character has the liveliest or most touching voice, you need to show the story in scenes.

All that telling is important for you as the writer to know. But the reader wants you to create a film-in-my-head experience. A fictive dream. The only way to do that is through scenes.

When I was an eager, middle-aged MFA student, I dove into understanding the mystical, all-powerful “scene,” with academic vigor. I listened to lectures. I read the screen gurus they recommended. I learned that scenes must move the plot forward, provide crucial backstory, and foreshadow what’s to come. One guru demanded I have all of my scenes worked out in my head and how they fit together before I wrote a single word. Another guru said scenes had to move from one emotional charge at the beginning to an opposite emotional charge at the end.

As somebody finding my way, step-by-step, through my first novel, I found all this information paralyzing. I was whipping myself into a rip-roaring case of writer’s block.

The voices in my head came to my rescue. I harvested them and sent them off to my advisor. And he seemed to think they were scenes. A zillion revisions later, those early scenes became my debut novel, Taken by Storm. 

Yes, a scene does have to do everything the gurus demand. But if you approach the task with their advice burdening you, you might never write another word.

Here’s my secret: scenes are merely conversations, arguments, fights. Dialogue with stage direction.

If you’re scene-challenged as I was, please join me for a free teleconference workshop, “Get them Talking: From Dialogue to Scene,” on Oct. 3rd, 7 PM EDT sponsored by Writing for Children Live. Follow this link to register 

The teleconference includes a detailed handout listeners can download plus my dialogue punctation guide as a bonus. If you join us live, you have the opportunity to ask questions. Registrants have free access to the call for 24 hours following it. The teleconference will be archived and available to download for a small fee.

In this workshop, I take writers, step-by-step, through the process of creating action-packed, emotion-rich scenes. Come prepared to tease the voices in your head onto the page using free-write techniques and leave with tools to craft your rough draft dialogue into a scene.

We’re offering a follow-up, free 2-hour webinar, “Plot Challenged,” on October 17th.

The broadcasts are available via telephone and online, so writers can join us from anywhere in the world.

Angela Morrison bio
In kindergarten, Angela Morrison wanted to be a veterinarian and have a hundred cats and ten kids. Then she went to first grade and learned how to write. She’s been a scribbler ever since. Her passion is writing break-your-heart coming-of-age YA romances, first love stories that will make you weep. Her published titles are Sing me to Sleep, YA winner for USA Best Books 2011 award and a 2010 GoodReads Choice Nominee, and the critically acclaimed Taken by Storm saga. Angela is a featured presenter for Writing for Children Live. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she was mentored by Ron Koertge, Susan Fletcher, Louise Hawes, and Sharon Darrow and workshopped with M.T. Anderson, Alison McGhee, Marion Dane Bauer, and the late, Norma Fox Mazer. Angela earned a BA in English from Brigham Young University. She is an Advanced NAUI, Nitrox certified scuba diver and enjoys diving all over the world. After more than a decade living in Canada, Switzerland, and Singapore, Angela and her family have returned to Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. She and her husband have three sons, one daughter, two daughter-in-laws, two wild thing grandsons, and no cats—unless you count the bobcat that hangs out on the veranda.