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What makes a scene engaging?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by BWFoster78, Sep 6, 2012.

  1. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

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    You need to be careful using humour to drive scenes because it can easily distract you fom the spine of the story. If you have an idea for something funny to happen, you might find it taking you away from the narrative flow that has sustained the reader's interest to that point. When I was writing the draft of my first published book there was a scene so funny I was literally howling with laughter on a train as I wrote it...in an otherwise silent carriage full of commuters. Then at editing time, the scene got cut. It was seven pages of set up for a major laugh...but seven pages away from the spine was too much (especially as I was under pressure from the publisher to cut the word count).

    Another reason to be careful with humour is this - are you funny? Really? Do you know, deep in your heart, that you are truly funny? Nothing falls flatter than someone trying to be funny when they're not. I tend to have a vaguely satirical air flowing through most of my stuff which can burst occasionally into overt humour, but when it does it absolutely better be funny.

    One trick I tried, in my most recently published book, was a scene including the performance of a stand up comic. I wanted the performance for a number of reasons, including plot and character development, but the perormance also had to be funny. This was a real challenge. I wrote the routine, which worked on the necessary functional levels...but was it funny? I thought it was funny enough, but usually when something is funny I know it's funny, and I wasn't sure. My answer? All through the performance, you are also privy to the internal narrative of the 1st person MC. And he kept whinging about the fact that the so-called comic wasn't very funny. Therefore the performance didn't have to be funny - in fact, it was better if the performance came across as unfunny and trying too hard...which then, in a strange way, made it funny.
     
  2. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    My interest in humor driving scenes is purely academic. While I definitely desire the occasional humorous moment to break things up, I know I'm not going to be using humor to any great degree. If it can be used without conflict, though, I'd like to gain a better understanding of the how and why.
     
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Ye old traditional use of humor, as I understand it, is to lower a reader's defenses right before a climax.
     
  4. pskelding

    pskelding Troubadour

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    To create an engaging scene I think it takes -

    1) Conflict (a given)
    2) Action (doesn't have to be fighting)
    3) Entering the scene late and leaving the scene early

    These seem to be the elements that work in most thrillers that I've read.
     
  5. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

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    I never worry too much about the mechanics of a scene until the editing phase. Then I'll have a pretty clear idea of what the scene needs to achieve in terms of plot, characterisation, momentum etc. I think of it in terms of getting from A to B - ie; achieving particular goals and always giving the reader some information...but always ending by putting a new question in the reader's mind.
     
  6. Lorna

    Lorna Inkling

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    What wraps me in a scene:

    * Tension and drive from inner and outer conflict
    * Characters I emphasise with
    * Great description
    * Twists and surprises
    * Mystery
     
  7. Androxine Vortex

    Androxine Vortex Archmage

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    One novel I could never put down was the first volume in the Chronicles of Malus Darkblade. I know I go on about this book a lot but it is my favorite book ever (I haven't finished the second one but I still like the first more) Even my avatar is the main character of the novel. Dan Abnett is one of my favorite authors. I love reading the COMD because the plot changes so many times. Some might say this is a bad thing but I disagree. I can never predict what happens next and there are constantly people changing allegiances, betrayals, and very problematic obstacles. I remember one time I sat down and I was going to read a little bit before I went to bed (makes me sleepy) but I ended up reading about twenty-thirty pages without even realizing it! The way that the plot changed and the unpredictability of the book really drew me in because I never wanted to put it down because I always wanted to know what happened next.
     
  8. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    Definitely conflict. But, I can see "conflict" showing up in a lot of ways, sometimes just in ripples affecting it.

    I think it has to do with what someone wants and the uncertainty about that. Revelation, or a mystery that teases at one, can certainly change that as much as a fight-- but also just sitting around can feed conflict if it builds our sense that what the character wants is vital, or what he already has is charming (as in, "oh please don't take it away next scene"). And the more it ties into things we already care about, the better.

    A favorite rule of mine, if I don't think a scene is about obvious confict, is to hone in on what exactly someone wants and mess with that using the same tricks I do for flashier things. If someone's just sitting at work that day, does he see his goal as to slog through it despite being tired (play up the exhaustion, the petty problems, the blessed moments of peace), or to get one project done (whatever it is just get the reader into how it's done and what gets in the way), or to make a personal decision in the middle of it (nail the routine but show his attitude shifting one way and another and how the two affect each other).

    Once I know what's at stake for him, and how to mess with it, I think the rest is pure pacing.
     
  9. gavintonks

    gavintonks Maester

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    I think if we could answer this question every book would be memorable

    What gets it for me, I think is when the character is in a predicament and moves forward so I really wnat to know what happens next
    Stephen Donaldson in the gap does this in the most shocking way
    Julian may was intriguing

    I think that when you are rooting for a character it is the strongest part of reading for me
     
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