Scene Openings as a Promise

Opening details

It is possible to pull the reader into the heart of the story, beginning in media res without getting lost, if your opening lines offer enough details of a situation, setting, and potential conflict.

Opening reflection

Opening reflection

Commenting on some aspect of character, setting or event before entering the scene; this can be terse or long.

What are beats?

The term beats refers to the way one breaks down events into small steps of action, making it possible to evaluate whether those steps move the action effectively toward the culmination of the scene.

Even if the beats are nested in a scene dense with description or reflection, making them clear and vivid will keep the line of action in the reader's mind as the scene moves toward the outcome of the event.

How beats can help clean up your scenes

Study one of your scenes that feels "muddy" or "floating." List the beats of action that you have written. If you see the action is not clear, make it so. Sometimes the fuzziness comes from failure to put the scene firmly into place ("grounding") through concrete details.

Perhaps we don't know where we are in space or time. You may want to make the scene tighter and more specific. Then you can make the beats escalate in tension. If the action beats of the scene create tension, then look at the scene to see what the responses of the characters are.

It is possible to make a list of emotion beats, the ways the characters react to specific actions. remember, feelings are not actions. They become action when they are translated into something physical, when someone does something.

Look at the response beats and ask/answer these questions:

1. Which emotional beats are reactions to actions?
2. Which emotional beats result in actions?
3. Are emotions expressed in dialogue or action or both?
4. Are some emotions hidden? Why?
5. When are the emotions are expressed in interiority, that is, the unspoken musing of the POV character?

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