Multiple Use Scenes


Multiple Use Scenes

In the first draft, it’s common for one scene to serve one purpose. To introduce the main character, for example, or to show an event which complicates the hero’s path. All well and good. And necessary in a first draft. However, as you get into the editing, you want to look for ways to tighten the story and create more depth. One way is to have some scenes do multiple duty.

Multiple scene mash

I want to do an example but without great long passages. So, I will give you a short description of some individual scenes, assuming they are all show.

Separate scenes

Scene one: Lauren is bad-tempered and malicious. She will stop at nothing to get her way.

Scene two: Abby’s mother is in intensive care and Abby tries to get away from work early every day to see her.

Scene three:  Lauren and Abby work in a high pressure work environment with a hard-driving boss.

The amalgam

Lauren tells the boss that Abby is missing deadlines, omitting to mention that Abby’s mother is ill.

Seems pretty simple, but if you do this one scene, you will have established Lauren’s character, Abby’s situation, and the work environment. While you probably need to fill in a bit more than I am depicting, the combination nevertheless provides a much more interesting event than the three separate ones. And may even generate a sub-plot which hadn’t been evident keeping things separate.

Which scenes?

Good question. It will not be as easy or obvious when you are reviewing your own manuscript. Which scenes you combine will depend on the plot. But there are some possibilities:

  • Use of the same setting. If you place the characters often in the same location (e.g. office), you might be able to mash a couple of events into one scene.
  • Repetition of character trait. Sometimes, you have shown what your character is like with more than one secondary character. You can either cut the extra scene or put the secondary types in the same scene so your character can establish himself to all audiences.
  • Too many plot points/too many characters. I put these two together because often a character represents a plot or sub-plot. If you think there are either too many plot points or characters to keep reader interest, either cut out the least important ones or amalgamate them.

A stumbling block

One thing might get in your way as you strive towards a more layered and/or complex version of your novel. You.

Writers have a bad habit of falling in love not only with their story but also with how it is written. Without knowing it, everything becomes Deathless Prose and therefore inviolable.

My advice: Get Over Yourself.

I can hear you saying, “But it’s such a lovely scene—did you see how I brought the analogy full circle?”

Yes, I’m sure that it is but remember that readers do not live on exquisite moments alone. Most want a well-constructed plot with interesting and complex characters and a satisfying ending. Exquisite moments will also be appreciated but in addition to, not instead of, the basics.

(Sorry and as always, this doesn’t apply to works where beauty of language is the main objective.)

In short, this is the time to be ruthless. Cut, amalgamate, rewrite. Be your own Attila the Hun. Put away your ego so that you can dedicate yourself to the service of the story and your reader.