Saturday, February 05, 2011

Scene openings

Scene openings

I am writing the third book of this trilogy now. There are two protagonists and two timelines. In one story, about 8 years will pass. In the other, about 200 years go by. So it gets complicated at times. The chapters tend to be short overall, but I use chapter length as a way to brighten or dim the spotlight a little, guiding the reader back and forth when emphasis is needed on one thread or the other.

One of the constant concerns is pacing. Because the short chapters range from 5-9 pages the events have to be compressed to fit, and sometimes I realize I have made two--or even three--chapters out of something that really only needed one.

So I spent this morning turning twenty chapters in one of the storylines into fifteen chapters, by combining chapter content and changing the emphasis points--and re-polishing the little cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter. But more than anything, I eliminated re-descriptions of things the reader already knows I had used as set-ups to more compelling stuff.
The story rolls so much better now.

It can be useful for any writer to reread each chapter and see what it really brings to the story. If the event you are excited to write occurs in the middle of the night, after the protagonist comes home from spending time with someone that you know they are slowly going to come to love, it might be worth painting a full scene with that person, then letting the protagonist get ready for bed thinking about the evening...and then be awakened by whatever the midnight surprise scene is.

But if the protagonist spends the evening with people less important in her/his life, and the reader already  knows what their roles are in the protagonist's world and is equally familiar with the physical layout of the apartment or house or campground (or whatever) consider a chapter opening that has almost no set up:

 quick example: ** (this is not from the book in progress, just examples I am making up now...)
       For a moment, Jenny thought the pounding was imagined, part of a dream. Then she thought it was coming from the street. She sat up in bed, confused and scared, tangled in the sheets, finally awake enough to understand that the banging was close, meant for her, and not muted by skin or flesh. Someone was pounding her door with something metal, someone was trying to break it down.

As opposed to:
    Jenny got home late and took a shower to relax after another long day at work. Gregory had been tedious as always and sometimes she wondered how she could stand to work there, but she knew she had to. Nothing had changed. She had to support herself now. It look a long time for her to go to sleep, then, in the middle of the night, someone pounded on the door.   For a moment....etc.


kathleen duey said...


Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...
Hi, Kathleen, This post comes at a good time for me. I'm in the process of rewriting a novel (MG) and decisions regarding chapter length, scene length, etc. So your post was very helpful. Thanks.

5:35 PM
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Brandon Singer said...

Ms. Duey, Im very excited to hear of you writing the third installment of this series because ive been following it for three years and everytime i want to read a book i look up to see if a new resurrection of magick is out. Skin Hunger was equisite and Sacred Scars was moving. An announcement of when the third will be published would be great.

kathleen duey said...

Elizabeth, I am delighted the post was helpful. Writing is a glorious, maddening thing!!

kathleen duey said...

Brandon, your praise of the books comes on the perfect morning for me.... as I stare at the current scene and try to understand what Sadima would do ..

I am writing the third one. I am past the middle, and so far kind of amazed at how it is all fitting together...

I will announce the release date here and everywhere when I know it. The editor will want to make sure I have a *book* before they slot it.

Thank so much for writing to me and for liking my work!

cherie said...

Ms. Duey, I too am a huge fan of your Resurrection of Magic trilogy. The first time I picked up Skin Hunger, I couldn't put it down (and I have two young kids who ended up wondering why their mom wasn't fixing them lunch lol). As soon as I finished, I immediately went looking for Sacred Scars and was very happy to find it. So, here I am, a little bit starstruck and patiently waiting for the third installment. ;)

kathleen duey said...


Thank you for getting in touch! Apologize to your kids for me, but I love knowing you were that caught up in my story! I am writing the third one now. As of today, Sadima is alive and refusing to give into her fear. Hahp is beginning to understand something about magic that will change him forever...

all best,

Anonymous said...

Hello Mrs Duey,

thanks for this...
For me as a young writer it's really useful to get advices like this. Writing is not only creativity. It's also much of technique. To learn this techniques it's god to hear/read what experienced authors have to say about writing.

All my best wishes,


kathleen duey said...

Yes, there is a lot of craft to learn before you can make what you create amazing for the reader, too!!