Plotting: How to Know Which Scenes to Include in Your Book

By JodyHedlund, @JodyHedlund

Recently I was reading a book (to remain nameless), and I realized I wasn't enjoying it. The cover of the book had drawn me to it along with the premise. All in all, it promised to be a fun, light-hearted romance.

But I only made it about a quarter of the way through the book before I finally gave up.

As I analyzed what I didn't like about the story, I realized one of glaring problems was that the author was missing quite a number of important scenes. She'd glossed over sections or summarized events that I would rather have read in detail. I was left empty and longing for more from the story than what the author had given me.

The experience brought to mind the question: How do writers know which scenes to include and which ones to summarize?

Obviously we can't write every scene that takes place over the time period of our books which usually spans weeks or months. We have to narrow down how much of our story and character's lives we reveal on the page. That means we often have to summarize events or leave them out entirely with the assumption that our readers will piece everything together without having to know every detail.

While I don't believe there's a hard, fast rule or formula for which scenes to write out in detail and which ones to summarize, I think there are a few principles we can keep in mind when choosing scenes to include in our books:

1. Include scenes that contain the most action. I always imagine myself at a theater production sitting in the audience watching the stage. And I ask myself, what scenes would I like to see acted out more often: scenes with people sitting around talking (and summarizing what they DID) or scenes where the people are actually moving around and acting out the story?

Yes, we will have slower scenes of contemplation and dialogue . . . but we should minimize such occurrences and instead choose scenes where something is actually going on, where our characters are encountering the bad guy, facing illness, hitting another conflict, etc.

2. Include scenes that move the story along in a significant way. We don't want to pick action scenes simply for the sake of having more tension and drama. Such scenes may add excitement to the story but don't really contribute to character development or to the plot in a meaningful way.

I'm reading a YA book right now that has one action-packed scene after another. The character is always fighting a battle against someone whether it be goblins or zombies. But the book is dragging because very few of the situations move the plot along or cause her to grow as a person.

A good test for whether an action scene (or any scene) is truly needed is to cut it out (mentally), and if it doesn't make much difference in the story (other than to add drama), it probably wasn't needed.

3. Include scenes that have multiple goals. Once I've picked my most action-packed scenes and made sure they serve a purpose in moving my story along, then I do my best to have those scenes serve multiple purposes, to pack as much punch into that short span of story as possible.

I try to weave in character development, focus on relationship issues, highlight minor characters, foreshadow, tie in symbolism, bring my setting to life (and vary the setting), add in more unanswered questions, etc. Every scene should have numerous reasons for being included in the book.

4. Include scenes that share important developments in the relationship. When choosing scenes for a romance, we MUST include pivotal interactions between the hero and heroine. This is one of the most critical points for romance writers.

But what exactly are the pivotal moments for a hero and heroine? I believe that includes anything they do together for the first time–the first meeting, the first date, the first fight, the first kiss, the first family visit, the moment they declare their love for each other, etc.

Romance readers want a glimpse of what emotions the characters are feeling for those firsts. Our characters should act out anything significant that happens between them and leave the summarizing for the mundane.

For example, if our characters eat together, we would want to show the first meal so that our readers can see the stilted conversation or the playful banter. But unless something changes in their relationship, we can summarize the next meal they share (or gloss over it).

So those are some of the ways I decide which scene to include in my books. What are some other methods you use for deciding what to include in yours?

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