Scene development is an important aspect of a manuscript--too important for an author to leave off of his or her stylesheet. Over the next four weeks, we'll be taking a look at the elements that make for compelling scenes.
Scene Development - Setting
An author must consider that setting encompasses much more than the location of the scene. Introduction of the lead, or point-of-view (POV) character, transition (time), location of scene, and some sensory details should, when possible, be established in the first one or two paragraphs of each scene.
Have you ever read a chapter, turned to the next chapter, and have no clue as to where the author has sent you. The character is shown immediatey in action without any setting of scene, without an inkling of how much time has passed between chapters, and without any clear identification of the POV character.
It is most often a good practice to start each scene by providing the reader a clue as to how much time has elapsed and showing the lead (POV) character doing something interesting. Remember, though, that this interesting action must be important to the story. Many times, this is easily conveyed with a transition sentence or two. Example: Two days after the funeral, John stood at his father's desk, reviewing the old man's Trust.
When putting a character in action, an author needs to also give him a stage. While detailed description can sometimes be important, the best way to deliver it is through what is important in the character's eyes. Example: Two days after the funeral, John stood at his father's desk, reviewing the old man's Trust. John let the document slip from his fingers. The ticking grandfather clock, ironically left to his father by his grandfather, broke the unbearable silence, as John stared out the window at the lush gardens of the mansion.
Even without a lot of heavy description, the reader gets a clear picture of the scene. Time and place are established, and sensory details add to the setting and the overall feel of the scene.
As a last note, many beginning authors also fail to bring in supporting character in a timely manner. Introduction of other characters who are present with the lead character at the opening of the scene should be done as soon as possible. Failure to do so, drops a secondary character into the action and jars the reader.
Next week, we'll look at bringing the POV character's goals and motivations into the scene.
Until then, happy editing!