WRITING CHILDREN’S BOOKS TIP #11: CREATE MEMORABLE SCENES
Shall I share one of the best kept secrets of truly unputdownable books? Yes? Creating great scenes! Great scenes keep the reader hooked until the very end of a story. They are often one of the reasons why we find ourselves reading under the bed, with a tiny torch, deep into the night, in spite of the fact that we know we will wake up with the father of all headaches the next day.
How are these scenes created? By knowing and mastering the elements of the extraordinary scene.
- the senses,
- character development and motivation,
- dramatic tension and
- scene intentions.
If these essential elements make it into every scene in your story, you are on your way to creating a truly memorable story.
NB: This list is a great tool for revisions too. Break your novel down into scenes and go through each scene to ensure that all the elements above are present.
TIPS FOR WRITING MEMORABLE SCENES
- Setting: Setting is described as encompassing a physical description of the place where the scene takes place and other characteristics such as the mood. Ensure that the setting of every scene is well spelt out. In Children of the Quicksands by Efua Traore, almost, if not every, single scene started with a paragraph on the setting. This was well done because these paragraphs immediately situate the reader in the character’s location in the story.
- Senses: The senses breathe life into written words. This is true of all the senses other than sight and sounds. Surprise your readers! Use at least three senses at a time per scene, particularly the sense of smell! When describing the setting for example: describe the beauty of the flowers (sight) their scent (smell) their whispers as they swirl in the wind (sound), etc.
- Action: This element is described as including both physical and emotional actions taken by characters. Your character must be in motion in every scene; physically or emotionally. They must have agency. These actions move the story from plot point to plot point.
- Dramatic Tension: Best described in the dictionary as, “… a feeling of worry or excitement that you have when you feel that something is going to happen …’ (A. S. Hornby). It is achieved if the reader is faced with the unanswered question “What will happen next?” This question keeps the reader hooked until the last paragraph.
- Character Development and or Motivation: A good scene also shows character development and or motivation. Why does your character perform certain actions in a particular scene? Is each new scene a natural progression from the previous scene?
- Scene Intentions: Every good scene must contain the goal(s) of the scene. Why is this scene relevant to this story? What goal does it achieve? For example, if the scene is made up of a flashback, does the flashback show us why your character thinks the way she does?
NB: The Functions of a Good Scene
Effective scenes serve one or all of the following purposes:
- reveal character,
- advance the plot, and
- create tension.
Here are some of my all-time favourite books for writing great scenes:
- Anica Rissi, Love, Sophia on the Moon
- Efua Traore, Children of the Quicksands
- Tochi Onyebuchi, Beasts Made of Night (the final scene was out-of-this-world. It gave me goose bumps! I highly recommend Onyebuchi’s book as a mentor text for writing scenes for MG and YA. He’s a scriptwriter after all!)
- Jordan Rosenfield. Make a Scene, Crafting A Powerful Story, One Scene at a time.
- Action: Read like a Writer
Pick up some of your favorite books and try to figure out the elements the author utilized in each scene to make it stand out for you. Can you see any of the elements above?
So, want to write good scenes? Start reading mentor texts. You can start with some of the books on my list. 😊
Want to write a story for children, don’t know where to start? Tell me all about it and we can figure out the theme and some mentor texts for you!
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For more information: read my essay here: