So you’ve written a thoughtful and interesting beginning for the scene, and you’ve built tension in the middle, using obstacles and conflict…now it’s time to wind your scene down. Time to leave a breadcrumb that your readers will want to pick up, digest and follow the trail to the rest of your story!
I’ve read many times that chapter breaks are used with the intent of someone being able to come to a stopping point in order to put the book down and eat, sleep, go to work, tend to spouse/kids…as if those things somehow are more important than finishing my book!
The same goes for each scene. The trick is to make your scene ending so delicious that while the reader has sated her appetite for a moment, wiping the corner of her mouth – she’s reaching in for just one more taste. It must answer some questions, but at the same time raise new ones. The reader definitely has learned something new about plot or character, and now we must write an ending that keeps them invested in the story and sure to return after they’ve completed the above interruptions. This is where we get to play cameraman – deciding whether to pan in or pan out.
If you’ve just written a scene full of heightened drama, now may be a good time to pan out – look at the landscape of the story beyond. This is a great time to put your description skills to work – you can pan out by describing the setting of whatever drama just took place or play narrator by reflecting, contemplating and speculating on what just happened or what’s coming. The point of panning out is to slow down the pace and let the reader take in what they just learned. It may be tempting to write scene after scene of action and intensity, but it will exhaust your readers, and could leave them wondering if they really have the energy to keep reading it.
The other way to end your scene is to pan in on a character or situation that’s at the forefront of whatever action is taking place at the time. This is often developed through a cliffhanger or revelation of some type. Unlike the pan out, where you can let your descriptive musings run a bit wild, here you want to use a character’s voice. Dialogue is the way to go here, and while most of the time live dialogue between multiple characters is best, I don’t count out internal dialogue from one character. As long as you let the reader in on the revelation, either way can be done effectively.
In my novel Oldsters, I’ve found that writing in scenes rather than chapters has let me really make sure the story progresses, and that I don’t have long periods of nothing important happening. Working at this level of intimacy also lets me edit easier. I have smaller chunks to digest and see if the scene follows up from the last one the way I intended, as well as making sure it leads smoothly into the next one.
I hope everyone has enjoyed the last three posts having to do with the parts of a scene. Next week, I’ll be discussing how I handle having multiple protagonists. In Oldsters, I have five friends who the story revolves around, and it’s been interesting developing them – carving out the strongest protagonist while not losing the others. I’ll talk about developing multiple story arcs, giving them each the appropriate number of POV scenes and how their individual stories help build the overall theme of the novel.