Whenever I start writing a new story, I’m filled to the brim with the “big scenes”. You know the ones: the big battles, the declarations of love, the moments of failure or success or terror. They’re what I call “the dramatic movie scenes”…the scenes that have the most incredible, dramatic music score in my head.
These can be the easiest scenes to write. We can think about these scenes, picture them in our mind’s eye over and over again until we know them as well as our favorite movie. Writing them down is the easy part!
But then, eventually, you realize that your book can be composed entirely of “dramatic movie scenes”. It would be exciting, but your reader would never get a breath. Important information about minor characters, the world the story takes place in, or foreshadowing of later events, are hard pressed to be seen.
Because sometimes a minor character’s’ love story isn’t a “dramatic movie scene”…it’s more of a “calm movie scene”.
And those just aren’t as exciting to write sometimes.
But. But. But.
These small scenes are incredibly important to your story. They tie the loose ends, the get your characters from point A to point B without boring your readers senseless. They can fill in important information with dialogue, can reveal character traits, and can add to world knowledge.
Essentially, these small scenes are your story’s glue.
These small scenes can allow you to develop the characters and relationships of minor characters, can allow you to weave in minor plot points, or hint at things to come or things from the past.
The small scenes allow your reader to get to know your characters better. They allow your readers to immerse themselves in your world and they allow your readers to one more way to get fully and completely head-over-heels sucked into your story.
Without the small scenes, your big scenes won’t make much sense or form much of a story. Those small scenes mean the difference between a story that trips along at light-speed or a story that pulls your reader in and takes them along the journey.
To take advantage of these small scenes to make them work for you, there are four great elements to include as you connect your story’s bigger scenes: minor plots, minor character development, setting descriptions, and dreams or flashbacks.
Minor plots are a great way to add depth to your story and your world. Not only do they allow you to portray additional information about characters, places, history, and other information, they can often become the most beloved parts of your story.
The best way to incorporate subplots is in these smaller scenes. Perhaps you have a few characters who have to wait in an emergency room or wait to speak to the chief, or wait for the ferry to carry them to their destination. This waiting period allows you incorporate dialogue or action between characters. You can reveal information, personality traits, notes about the world, or interactions between other characters as your story waits to be admitted, for the chief to speak, or to arrive at the destination.
You can also use what I call carrying dialogue. If your characters are journeying…say on an airplane, on horseback, in a car, etc, you can use the travel time to include dialogue that enlightens the reader on the plots, minor plots, the world at large, or anything else you might want to disclose to your readers.
Minor Character Development
Small scenes allow you to build your minor characters into the major plots and any minor ones. They will, of course, e take part is those “dramatic movie scenes” (as they should!), but the small scenes allow minor characters to have their own action and conversations. The reader gets clued in on what’s important to them, why they’re assisting or resisting the main character, what their personality is like, who they love. This allows the reader to see them more clearly and illustrates fully dimensional characters that add to your story and your world. And having fully dimensional characters not only adds to your main plot’s believability, but they also contribute to a story that feels finished, without any parts missing.
Additionally, these scenes add depth to characters relationships and allow your reader to fully fall in love with your characters. You’ll be able to add in minor quirks, what they do for a living, their history, how they met the protagonist, or why they fell in love with whoever they’re in love with.
This one is pretty self explanatory. Your characters are walking from point A to point B? Have them talk about your world: what issues are important, the latest gossip, how the main plot relates or directly influences the world (if applicable), and the characters interactions with the world.
This kills two birds with one stone: it gives your reader more information about your character and it helps them understand the world and the characters’ viewpoints within the world.
Dreams and flashbacks can be used both as “dramatic movie scenes” and as small scenes. As small scenes however, dreams and flashbacks reveal important information about the narrator(s) of the story: their fears, their worries, what they won’t/can’t admit to themselves. These can add in foreshadowing of events later to come, hint at important secrets the reader will come to learn, and as a bonus, make your readers feel closer to your characters. They’re a win-win.
Small scenes don’t have to be boring. Your story doesn’t have to feel like a string of big scenes pieced together with smaller lamer scenes. Learn to utilize the small scenes, and they’ll prove their worth to you in spades.