One of my criteria for a book to make a classic category is its ability to continue to strengthen a writer’s skill from beginner to advanced. As I recently reviewed this excellent Make a Scene for a workshop I was struck again by the combination of simplicity and depth that Jordan Rosenfeld brings to understanding scenes.
Not only does she cover the basic functions with detailed guidelines and examples, but also goes much further by examining each scene’s purpose re focus, style, tone and effect in scene types.
Which scenes when and where will best move the narrative forward? She shows suspense, dramatic, contemplative, dialogue, action, flashback, epiphany, and climactic choices in their beginning, middle and end stages. What degree of core ingredients such as setting and sensory details, motivation, subtext or tension is required? I especially appreciate that she doesn’t bypass the quiet scenes which I think sometimes are the most difficult to execute well enough to hold the reader’s attention. The story needs to pause without the reader taking a snooze.
For example, in a contemplative scene, Rosenfeld gives three ways to keep dramatic tension moving throughout the quiet pace: include internal conflict, include unspecified danger, and create an eerie or tense atmosphere.
She advises that when opening a contemplative scene with interior monologue, “….the character’s thoughts must be related to the scene that came before. Don’t force your readers to guess what your protagonist is reflecting on—make it clear.” As a substantive editor I see this problem over and over. As writers we think we need to keep suspense by keeping secrets, however as Rosenfeld points out we often cause confusion.
“Many writers understand one element of the scene, but not how all the elements work together, inform each other, and create a narrative that is compelling and capable of maintaining a reader’s attention.”
In Make A Scene Rosenfeld leaves none of these issues to speculation, instead she grounds them in application both for writing and revision—in all genres.
“by a CEN member”
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