Big Scenes

Every Novel Needs a Scene

In my WIP, I need to write a big scene: cast of dozens, culmination of major plot threads, emotional high for major characters.

Big scenes should be a part of every novel, because there should be places where characters, plot events, outer and inner narratives arcs, and subplots intersect. The climax of the story, at least, should be big. Big as in it takes up a lot of space, covers more pages than other scenes. Big as in it impacts the lives of the characters, representing a major turning point.

OK, I’m ready! But how do I write a big scene?

Decide What Type of Big Scene Your Story Needs

Sandra Scofield’s little treasure of a book about scenes, The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer, has a whole chapter devoted to just such a scene.
scene book

Scofield suggests two approaches to a big scene:

  • Small focus. Focus on the emotional reaction of the POV character, or the interaction between two main characters. Essentially, this is a small scene within a big setting.
  • Multi-focus scene. This type of big scene opens up the interaction to include many other characters, who have input, express and evoke emotion, and trigger reactions from the main characters.

It was immediately clear to me that I wanted the small focus scene. The interaction between the two main characters was indeed the point of this scene, although it would take place within the context of a community gathering. They would have conversations and interactions with minor characters; in fact, a couple of subplots would either wind up or would have a strong plot point. But these two characters are the pivot point of everything happening.

Planning a Big Scene for Your Novel

Scofield suggest you plan the beginning, middle and end of such a scene, to make sure enough happens in each section, and to make sure you can manage all the characters.

  • Arrival. The opening of my scene is the arrival of everyone to the event. I’ll need about four instances of people or groups of people entering the scene. Knowing that up front helps me plan for variety, shift the emphasis or focus to telling details for each group, plan for pacing, and helps me make sure everyone gets there that needs to get there — even if those difficult characters come in late, as usual.
  • Eating Dinner. This happens to be a community meal at a school cafeteria. Now, dining can be rather boring, so I’ve got to make sure there is enough action and interaction to keep this interesting. It’s here that I’ll add in a couple conversations that will end subplots. I’m still struggling to find appropriate actions and am considering a small subplot for humor, perhaps some kid trying to steal butter or something.
  • Auction. The crowd has gathered for a fund raising auction, so I’ll speed up the dinner a bit and get to this as fast as I can. The conflict is clearer to me here, so I’m expecting this section to be fun and easy to write, as I wrap up a major plot point.
  • Leaving. I want to leave at least one poignant, emotional moment for the aftermath of this big scene. I’d like to do this at the cafeteria, not after the characters arrive home. That way, I don’t need lame paragraphs about going home and going to bed. Just leave them going out the door and we assume that boring part. Should give me a good scene cut for the next chapter.

I also have a good idea of the emotional reactions of my main characters as the tensions between them rise throughout the scene.

I think, I’m almost ready to write that big scene.