Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

This post is the eighteenth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

As you write your novel, you will write many different scenes. They may be funny, serious, happy or terrifying. There is no way to tell you how to write each of these scenes because there are too many different factors to consider – writing style, genre, plot.

But here are a few scenes that can happen in any story and some tips or things you may want to consider if you are including them in your novel.

Low light/night scenes

When writing a scene in the day time, it is easy to talk about the color of clothes or facial expression of a fellow character. Your main character will be able to describe the flash of light as the sun reflects off the sword blade or the way the water sloshed in the bucket.

But when you are writing a scene in low light – whether it be at outside at night or just in a darkened room – you need to take into account what can actually be seen.

The first step is to be aware that writing a night scene or one in low light that what you might normally describe – grimaces on faces, color of eyes or shirts – will not happen.

A second step that can help make your descriptions more accurate is to visit a similar area to the scene you are writing. If you are writing a scene between two lovers, grab someone and stand in a darkened room to see how much of the other person you can see. If you are writing a fight scene in a dimly lit bar, visit one. (But I don’t suggest you start a fight to complete your research.)

Even just stepping out into your backyard can give you an idea of what your characters will be able to see for an outside scene.

Spending this extra research time will add to the realism of your story. Your reader may not note these details but including something your character can

obviously not notice in the dark can pull the reader out of the story.

 

Fight scene

Since I write fantasy, I guess it is expected that at some point there will be a sword fight or another type of battle taking place. Here are a few tips I use when developing a fight scene. These hold true whether it is someone using a knife, a sword or their fists.

1.) Visualize – This might not be an easy step for some but a lot of what I write is what I visualize in my head. I can picture what is happening and just describe it as I see it.  However, if you have trouble visualizing a fight (say because you have never been in one – and that would probably be most of us), consider the next tip.

2.) Watch a fight – Pick a movie or TV show with a good fight scene. (For a TV series, my husband suggested Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for movies, his suggestions off the top of his head were Under Siege, Bourne Identity and Batman: The Dark Knight and for sword fights, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But there are many more options out there.)  Of course, since these are TV/movie fights they may not be the most realistic, but you can pick up some good ideas from them.

You also might try looking at videos of sparing in martial arts. I actually used this technique for a knife attack while writing my novel, Destiny. I wanted to see how a person attacking with a knife would move.

3.) Draw a diagram – When I am writing a particularly involved battle scene or one with many participants, I like to draw a map of where everyone is at the beginning of the battle. It helps me keep track of where my characters are and who (or what) they are battling. Pretend you are a basketball coach and draw x’s and o’s on your paper. It really can help you keep track of everything.

 

4.) Act it out – When all else fails, grab a partner and act out the fight scene. This can give you an idea of how each participant would react. For the same knife attack that I mentioned above, one of my characters was going to surprise someone by stepping out of the shadows and stabbing another character in the back. To figure out how she would stab her victim, my husband and I did a little role playing. This let me not only figure out how the attack would happen but what type of injury would occur.

Once you have your fight scene laid out there are a few more things to remember. You need to watch your pacing – fight scenes need to be fast paced. Keep your sentences short. You want to keep the reader’s attention by showing action so don’t include a lot of detail. And remember you don’t have to write every blow that happens.

Humor

No matter what type of novel you are writing, humor can add another layer to the story.

I am not talking about making your story a major laugh-a-minute type affair. I am talking about working in some humor here and there to keep things interesting and realistic. Stories need ups and downs. Humor can help.

But humor is subjective. How many times have you seen a video or heard a joke that you find insanely funny but when you shared it with someone else, you were met with a blank stare or a half-smile?

The trick with humor in your writing is you don’t want to try too hard or make it too obvious that you are trying to be funny. I would suggest having a several people read your “funny” section to see if the majority of them get the humor.

Romance (in a non-romance novel)

Just like with humor, adding romance to a non-romance novel can add realism to your story. But how much you add and how much detail you add will all depend on what you are comfortable with and the overall plot. Whatever amount of romance you add to the story – and any sex scenes – should flow from the events of the story. Remember that every scene needs to advance the story forward or expand the character. So hot, passionate sex just for the sake of adding sex to your story is not a good idea (unless you are writing erotica).

Tips for writing sex scenes

1)      Decide how much you are comfortable writing. Just because others write steamy sex scenes that leave nothing to the imagination doesn’t mean you need to follow suit. Don’t force yourself to write out of your comfort zone. Your discomfort will show in your writing.

2)      Let your characters decide on the level of intimacy. Don’t worry about publisher guidelines or what is popular. There are readers out there who like all sorts of levels of romance and descriptions (or lack thereof) in regards to sex scenes.

3)      However, do give the readers what they expect. When reading a romance novel, you expect romance and at least the hint of something more. If the romance is secondary to your story and doesn’t progress, your reader won’t feel cheated. But if they are expecting a steamy book and there is no steam, then your reader will be upset.

4)      You don’t always have to focus on what is physically happening. Write about what the characters are feeling rather than what they are doing.

No matter the scene you are writing, think it through, act it out or do whatever you need to make it feel real to your reader.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

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Recipe of the Month – French Apple Pie

If you are looking for an apple pie recipe for this holiday season, give this one a try. I don’t know where I got this recipe but it is a good one with a couple of twists on the crust. Instead of a rolled traditional crust, this pie features a pat-in-the-pan cookie nut crust. However, the recipe for the crust as written always produces way more crust than needed.

 

Pat in the Nut Cookie Crust

Ingredients

1/2 cup margarine, softened

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 t. vanilla

1/4 t. salt

1/4 t. baking soda

Directions

Mix margarine and brown sugar. Stir in remaining ingredients until crumbly. Press against bottom and side of 9″ pie plate.

French Apple Pie Filling & Topping

Ingredients

4-5 large tart apples, pared and thinly sliced

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 T. flour

1/2 t. cinnamon

Topping

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/4 cup firm margarine

Directions

Prepare crust (above). Heat oven to 425 degrees. Mix apples, granulated sugar, 2 T. flour and 1/2 t. cinnamon. Turn into crust. For topping, mix 1/2 cup flour, brown sugar, and 1/2 t. cinnamon. Cut in margarine until crumbly. Sprinkle over apples. Cover edges with aluminum foil. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake apples until tender, about 25 to 35 minutes. Cool slightly before serving. Cover and refrigerate any remaining pie.

Buying a New Car

When you go down to the store to buy a shirt, pillow or even a carton of milk, you can look at the price on the item or shelf and know how much it costs. You can then weigh whether the item is worth the price, or if you have the amount of money for your purchase.

But there are a few items such as the purchase of a house or car where this ease of knowing your exact price ahead of time just don’t exist. These are major purchases, and for many they don’t happen too often. We have purchased two houses in our 22 years of marriage. In that same time period, we have purchased nine automobiles, including the latest over Thanksgiving weekend.

We are a two-car family. So even this divides out to a car every 2 ½ years, it has been seven since I have had a new car and four since we bought my husband’s Dodge Challenger.

Buying a car has never been one of my favorite activities. Since we only do it every so often, it isn’t something we have a lot of experience with. Buying a car involves haggling, something I don’t do well. I like going down and knowing what I am paying and then paying it. This is what led us to buying a car from a Saturn years ago. (Sadly, that car manufacturer is no longer in business.)

Kia Sorento

My last car purchase was seven years ago when I moved from my Toyota Camry to my Kia Sorento. I wanted a car that could hold more kids. I wanted a vehicle with a third row as my son was in a private preschool where the parents drove the kids to their field trips. Of course, the year after I bought the car, the preschool stopped doing the field trips.

But I have loved my Kia. It has been a great car. And while we only used the third row maybe 10 to 12 times a year, I like having the option for more seating. We like the Sorrento so much that we seriously considered just going with the same car when we bought a new one.

And my son was all for that. He is resistant to change and vowed that we needed to get the same type car in the same color. I, however, wanted to look at a few other cars. I researched them on Consumer Reports. In addition to the Kia Sorento, I wanted to see the Toyota Highlander and the Hyundai Santa Fe. The latter one is what my brother had recently purchased.

Lexie in the 2nd row captain’s seat

Once we went to the dealerships, my kids both declared they liked the Highlander best. Of course, the Highlander they liked wasn’t the base model. They fell in love with the captain seats in the second row. To get those, you had to buy an SE, XLE or the highest model – the Limited. These models were all a little more than we originally planned to spend.

To save us money, and cut down on some of the haggling, we opted to go through Sam’s Club’s car-buying program. This is supposed to get you a couple thousand off your car. Of course that doesn’t mean you don’t have to haggle about the amount they want to give us for our Kia Sorento that we planned to use as a trade-in.

My New Toyota Highlander

Lucky for me, my husband is an attorney and good at negotiating. With the information I had from my research, he got them to go up on the Internet discount and on the trade-in value. Then by putting some additional money down, we got the car payments down to the rate we desired.

And that is how I got my new Toyota Highlander. It had every feature I wanted. The only negative was that it came in black instead of silver. But we are getting over that.

Featured Author Spot open for December and January

NOW Looking for December and January! 

Are you an author looking for some additional publicity for your latest book?

I host guest authors every Friday – any genre, both traditionally and self-published. In the past 5 years, I have hosted 294 authors on my site!

The Featured Author post can take one of three formats: author interview, book excerpt or a guest post on any aspect of writing, publishing, or book marketing.

Sign up is on a first-come-first-served basis, though I do have a few Tuesday openings to accommodate special requests for dates related book tours, book releases or cover reveals. (Click the Featured Authors link on the left to check out past authors.)

If you are interested, send me a message along with any date requests, and we’ll take it from there.

Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

This post is the seventeenth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Last week, I discussed adding in bits and pieces of your characters’ back story to your novel. It can add intrigue while making your characters believable. Today, I want to talk about another technique that can add tension and suspense to your story – though in a different way. That way is by foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is a way of indicating or hinting at what will come later. It can be subtle (such as storm clouds on the horizon suggesting the danger that is coming) or more direct (like Romeo and Juliet talking about wanting to die rather than live without each other).

Foreshadowing can be used to build suspense or to prepare the reader for impending events without revealing too much of what is to come.

Without foreshadowing, readers have no expectations because you haven’t provided them with any. Since many beginning (and even some veteran) authors struggle with foreshadowing, I wanted to offer these tips.

  • Make sure the incident needs foreshadowing. Not every event needs it and overusing it will cause the effect to be lost on the reader. It should only be used for the major events in your novel.
  • Remember to follow through on the foreshadowing. If you introduce a gun (or a mystic stone), it will need to appear as an important piece of the story or your reader will feel cheated.
  • If you are building suspense, your foreshadowing should be more obvious since it is key to the suspense. If you are merely setting up a situation for later, you may want the foreshadowing to be almost invisible to the reader. Think of this as planting clues that the reader may miss but when they think back about it will realize they were significant to the event they were pointing to.
  • Carefully consider the timing of the foreshadowing. It needs to be far enough in advance to tip off the reader but not so far ahead that the reader forgets about it. If you are using it for suspense, remember not to drag it out for too long or the reader will disengage from the suspense building.
  • Don’t forget that you can also use foreshadowing to deliberately mislead the readers. You can make them believe that X is about to happen when really Y happens instead.
  • Since foreshadowing is tough to do – you don’t want it too obvious or too subtle – this is a good time to use a beta reader. Something that you feel might be obvious may not be clear to your readers.
  • A lot of foreshadowing is done after your first draft is written. It might be easiest to plan for foreshadowing by selecting the events you want to foreshadow and then work backwards to incorporate the foreshadowing in the preceding chapters.  A small event may only need a little foreshadowing while a major event that occurs near the end of the novel may be hinted at and alluded to almost from the beginning.

Foreshadowing can be a tricky business and how you use it – heavy-handed or subtle – is up to you. The best way to learn about foreshadowing techniques is to observe them in the books you read and movies you watch. And, of course, by practice in your own writing.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel