Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Home Video and Scenes that Move the Plot Forward

Writing Wednesday

Have you ever been subject to the exquisite torture of watching unedited home video? There's nothing like watching half an hour of junior about to take his first bite to make you seriously entertain the notion of gnawing off your own arm to escape.

The problem with unedited home video is that years of watching television and movies has lead us to believe that we should only have to watch the interesting bits.

This lesson applies equally to prose. (Though we usually talk about it in terms of moving the plot forward.)

Jessica Faust, an agent at BookEnds, LLC, explained how every scene must move the plot forward this way:
"In any book you read you’ll notice, sometimes subtly, that every scene has a purpose, and that purpose is to take the reader to the end, or give the reader the information required to get to the end of the book.

"One of the mistakes we often see with beginning authors are those who just love their characters and want you to love them too. They want to welcome you into their world and have you sit and share their experiences. Which is great, but not necessarily the best thing to build a novel on. Now, if that coffee chat is somehow discussing the state of the world you are building, clues from the mystery, or the heroine’s latest romantic adventure, in other words, if it’s moving the plot along, great. Keep it in. If not, you’ll need to find a different way to introduce your characters to readers."
In my own work, I found the analogy between a video scene and a scene in prose very helpful when considering what scenes to use and how to structure them.

Image: Simon Howden /

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