Scenes That Can’t Be Cut
Discover how good scenes propel plot. Bring a short scene from your work-in-progress to take through in-class exercises. Explore how to shape a scene, identify its central purpose, involve readers, and keep your plot on track. Writers of fiction and creative nonfiction are welcome.
Scenes That Can’t Be Cut
You’ll identify the essential elements of a good scene and apply them to your draft immediately.
- Goal. Start with a character with a goal. Sounds simple, right? Yet it’s easy to let characters meander into memories and backstory as they gaze passively at purple hills. Good scenes have a mini-plot: a character who wants something, strives to get it but must cope with opposition. Tap into that desire and readers will root for your character as she strives to achieve what she wants—only to face an even tougher dilemma.
- Conflict. What trouble is your character in? If the answer’s none then your scene’s in trouble. If the scene tracks a satisfied character listening to birds singing in a cloudless sky, something better get in the way fast, or there’s no story anymore. Even if the conflict is mom yelling, “Time to put those curlers in your hair.”
- Change. The best way to focus a scene is to pinpoint moments of change. Identify the change that occurs, when it occurs, and how the point-of-view character is changed as a result. Effective change is two-pronged: something changes within your character, and externally in the scene. We’ll discuss how to find these turning points and make them matter.
- Grounding and orienting with setting. If readers don’t know where the scene’s taking place, who’s in it, what’s happening, or why they should care, things get stalled fast. But how do you ground without overstating, orient without describing every detail in the room? How much scenery do you need in a scene? Is setting more than just place? We’ll look at examples in established writer’s work to find a balance.
- Showing rather than telling. Showing means you involve your reader in the scene—help them visualize what’s happening with concrete detail. It also means showing emotion (“he slammed his fist on the table”) rather than telling (“he was angry”). “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it's raining but the feeling of being rained upon.” (E. L. Doctorow) We’ll analyze excerpts that don’t skimp on the senses—smell, taste, touch, sound, sight—but don’t go overboard.
- Good dialogue. When is dialogue at its best? How does it enhance a scene? Does yours intensify conflict, urgency, characterization, a character’s goal, your novel’s themes? We’ll discuss common pitfalls and effective fixes.
- Hooking. What does it mean to open with a hook? Is it just about grabbing attention? Hooks help you tease with intrigue, questions, an irresistible voice, humor, playfulness, enticing language and more. How about ending with one, too?
By the end of the day you’ll have a scene outline and tips for writing a scene that’s taut, tangible and full of page-turning tension.
"Angela, you bring such passion and interest and enthusiasm to the class (that) it is inspiring and contagious! Thank you! I wish this class was ongoing. I would love to attend this class 52 weeks a year." ~ Jennifer Woods, Belleville, WI
"It was highly useful, without fluff." ~ Elijah Meeker, Madison, WI
“Instructor Angela Rydell was excellent—real content and real encouragement.” ~ Marcia Bosscher, Madison, WI
"Well-planned by Angela... A really creative atmosphere!" ~ Kathleen Phillips, Waukesha, WI
“Felt very comfortable… a sense of community developed among group members and Angela.” ~ Kelly Ketzel, Oshkosh, WI
"To call Angela a teacher is not quite right. She did not teach us. She drew out of each of us the possibilities we had, which might have been dormant or simply unrecognized." ~ Daniel Kunene, Madison, WI
Angela Rydell, MFA, has taught creative writing through UW-Madison Continuing Studies since 2006. Programs include Write-by-the-Lake Writer's Workshop & Retreat, School of the Arts, Writers' Institute, and Weekend with Your Novel. She has taught at Edgewood College, in the national program Senior Summer School, been a poet-in-residence in elementary schools, and is the lead judge for the 2010 Wisconsin People & Ideas poetry contest. She is a recipient of Poets & Writers' Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. Her work has appeared in Poets & Writers, The Sun, Alaska Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Beloit Poetry Journal, Crab Orchard Review, and other journals.
For more information about this workshop, email Angela Rydell at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call workshop coordinator Christine DeSmet, 608-262-3447.
By phone: Call 608-262-7942 or 800-725-9692.
By mail: Print, complete and mail the Continuing Studies registration form.Online: Secure online registration is available for this program.