Rolling through a Scene

Novelists tell their stories in scenes, the structural building blocks of narrative. The modern narrative interconnects scenes in a way to keep the plot of a story flowing forward in a certain direction. Writers like me aim for movement in my scenes–fast or slow, depending on how pacing (the speed of forward momentum) serves my narrative structure and story genre.


The scenes and their linkage follow along the writer’s plot;  in many modern novels this plot line undulates: that is, the scenes will rise and fall (picture: landmarks of hills and valleys) because of rising or falling tension due in large part to each scene’s action and pacing as the scene serves the plot.


If you were to illustrate a novel’s scenes along a plot line on graph paper, they might resemble the action of a a train moving along a track in wild and unexpected terrain, climbing or plunging, twisting or turning, with limited and short periods of flatness (where the plot slows, the writer transitions to a new scene, and the reader catches a breath).


As a writer, I often think about how I will “roll” through a scene. If the scene is dark and atmospheric and I want the tension to rise, I’ll enter a scene where tension already exists and drive it higher. As the tension nears its peak, I’ll shorten the sentences to a few short words, using simple nouns and strong verbs. When I’ve made the scene point, I exit the scene. Sometimes–to keep the pacing fast–I’ll use a “double jump” from one scene to the next instead of writing a transition.


Entering a scene in media res (in the midst of things) gets that scene moving quickly. However, if I desire that next scene to roll along more slowly, I’ll slow the roll by using polysyllabic words and longer sentences in that scene (effectively lowering scene tension).


When really big stuff happens in a scene, I try to eliminate every detail that doesn’t contribute the the drama and point of that scene. These high action or dramatic scenes are fast-moving and thus are often employed to open or hit the dramatic climax of a novel.


I write whodunnit cozy murder mysteries. Solving the mystery and discovering the killer’s identity drives the story in this genre. I’ll write a bit of setup and get to the murder as quickly as possible. A dramatic opening gets the train engine moving out of the station along its track of  scenic hills and valleys.


Of course, a lot of other stuff has to opening in a novel opening, which can affect how fast or slow we roll through those early scenes. I’ve read and reviewed lots of suspense novels. Some writers easily convey the tone of the book, introduce the protagonist and his/her voice, and present the threat to the hero with a skillful swiftness. Such openings establish in the reader’s mind confidence in the hands of that writer to deliver a good story that follows an interesting plot line (the route of our train).


Another writer might take longer to set up a narrative where “rolling through” the opening goes more slowly because the slower approach serves the “moodiness” or dark tension of that story. The pace at which a scene unfolds depends on the function of the scene in the overall narrative. Fast. Slow. Whether for a scene or overall plot pacing–both can be effective when serving a purpose.  But here’s the caveat: go too slow . . . and you might as well stop and get off the train. End of story.



I invite you to check out my Henny Penny Farmette cozy mysteries from Kensington Books, available from online and traditional bookstores everywhere. See,



The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

Novel #2, coming Oct. 1, 2016










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