How to Write Gripping Scenes

We’re so glad we discovered Rita Karnopp’s blog. And we definitely think you will be too. Rita writes about prose writing, but good writing is good writing, regardless of whether it’s for the page or the stage:

by Rita Karnopp

bloody handWhat exactly [comprises] a scene?  I think of a scene like a trip to the mountains.  There are valleys of flowers and cliffs of varying shapes and colors.  Sometimes the end of the trail leads to a beautiful waterfall.  Suddenly we notice a dead body floating at the far end . . . and the story begins.  Each scene you create should stand on its own and add to the story in a crucial way, creating a structurally solid read.

How do we make scenes intrinsically sound?  The way I do it is to imagine every scene in my head.  I see my characters and feel what they’re feeling and understand why they react the way they do.  If you run your story through your mind like a movie, you’ll find holes and implausible behavior.

This is a good way to let your characters take over, do what comes naturally, and lets them improvise . . . my characters have written some of my best scenes.

Check the beginning of each scene and make sure it grabs your reader immediately.  Again keep in mind, “no one waits for the action to begin.”

Don’t just be concerned with scene beginnings, but be equally aware of scene endings.  This is your chance to make the reader unable to close the book and continue another time.  Stop just when your character is going to make a critical decision or when something terrible just happened or is just about to happen.  Maybe the character is pushed to the limit and is ready to either explode or do something they might regret.  Make your reader decide, ‘ok, just one more chapter.’  If I’m into a book – I’ve been known to close it (begrudgingly) at three am.

I know this might sound strange, but a scene must serve a purpose.  Its job is to further the story, clear-up or create doubt, and add intensity.  It must nurture the story and keep our readers turning the pages.

Be aware of placing in every scene.  Dialog can speed up your scene and thoughts and descriptions will slow them down.  This creates a feeling of movement.  You can use internal and external conflict, dialogue, actions, and description to draw the reader from chapter one to reading ‘the end.’

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2 thoughts on “How to Write Gripping Scenes”

  1. All of this is really great advice — until you apply it to any TV show ever.

    I recently watched the second episode of “Manhattan,” written and produced by people who really know what they’re doing. It dragged and dragged and dragged and dragged. And that was the first 5 minutes. The rest of the episode was increasingly more painful. There were a couple of interesting things that happened, but it wasn’t worth an hour of time to watch. I could have cleaned my whole kitchen while the show was on and not missed much of anything.

    So no one there worried about making scenes more gripping. Or about much of the advice given on this TV writing web site. But unlike 99% of the people here, they’re show’s ON TELEVISION.

  2. So you’re suggesting that because way too much crap writing appears on TV, everyone should just give up trying to write well and join the crap brigade?

    That’s crap, joy. And you know it.


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