The final and fifth step of authors Anne Perry and Victoria Zackheim’s master class on How to Write Your Book dealt with the art of writing the scene. Like a book that has a clear beginning, middle and end, so does a scene. Although not every author takes the approach of writing chapters in chronological order, Anne recommended that doing so makes it easier for an author be sure the cause and effect of characters actions and events make sense. That doesn’t only apply to each chapter, but every scene should have a purpose that fits into your story.
Both Victoria and Anne also suggested that each scene should have two or three objectives, and that one of those should be conflict. Victoria noted that many people confuse the concept of ‘conflict’ with ‘fighting’ which isn’t what is meant at all. For example, asking your partner, “Do you want pizza or sushi?” isn’t just a question, but indecision which translates into a conflict. Even those seemingly small things matter the overall scheme.
Other points to consider when developing a scene:
- Know where you are in a scene
- Know the purpose the of the scene
- Know the motivations of the characters
- Make an emotional impact
- Engage the the reader
- Introduce a character without an information dump
Going back to the first step of writing a book – developing an outline – Anne’s process is writing very detailed. As she’s writing her book, she checks off each scene as it’s completed. I learned that my own writing process would be more beneficial if I wrote a detailed outline first, even if it is more work. I stopped writing my current book going back and outlining the story. Once I did that, telling the story became easier. The other piece of advice I took to heart from the class is that the trick to writing a formula like mystery or romance is to put your own unique spin on it.
Each step taught me to really think about my story, characters, descriptions and narrative, while determining the purpose of each before typing a word. For me, at least, this means far more advanced planning. In the end, I believe I’ll be a better writer because of it.
More information on Anne and Victoria: In September 2020 Anne released the second book in her new Elena Standish series, A Question of Betrayal. The first of the series, Death In Focus, is one of my favorite mysteries. And just in time for the holidays the prolific Perry released A Christmas Resolution. Victoria teaches creative nonfiction and essay writing through the UCLA Extension Program. In spring 2020, she released the anthology: Private Investigations: Mystery Writers on the Secrets, Riddles, and Wonders in Their Lives.