We all have to be veeeery selective about each and every scene we put in our stories. There is a fine line between telling a comprehensive story with all necessary information and backstory versus blowing things out of proportion by including scenes and information which don’t contribute to the story.
It’s my personal understanding that a scene is worthwhile when it either strengthens the bond between protagonist and reader or when it progresses the plot. Or ideally a combination of both.
To make your readers actually care about your hero, you have to make them bond with him or her. This is not always easy, but incredibly important. At the beginning and all throughout the story you have the chance to pull the reader into the protagonists emotional world. We get glimpses of the character and we need to understand where the hero is coming from. This includes the main characters deepest longing and inner drive, because they are the basis for decisions along the way.
Say she aches for a loving family, because the one she grew up in was cold and abrasive. If your readers know this, they will understand why she might get played by someone who promises love and affection, but has ulterior motives. Or imagine someone who’s always been in the shadow of other people and wants to be recognized as well. If the reader has a chance to share his pain it’s understandable if he reacts with jealousy if someone else wins time and time again.
Be aware that you shouldn’t just dump some miscellaneous information on your audience. The information and backstory provided should still be relevant for your plot. Don’t put in whole scenes of your protagonists riding classes, when riding doesn’t play a bigger role. Sure, if your protagonist wants to train horses for a circus and your story revolves around that – good for you! If however you’re writing about running a bookshop in New York or a space journey to prove water on Neptun… riding doesn’t add to the story at all. Leave it out.
It’s nice that you thought about hobbies and interests of your protagonist, but you don’t even have to mention it if you don’t plan to make those skills or knowledge important during the story. Again, if it doesn’t add to the story in some way, leave it out.
The beginning of Harry Potter actually sets up the story neatly. You get to know Harry and the way he grew up – without a loving family, without friends. His longing for a home, as well as family and friends plays an important role all throughout the books and it’s an important part of this character.
The other important type of scenes are the ones that are relevant to the plot. This includes all the moments where your protagonist learns or does something that gets them from point A to point B.
You probably do have to make your protagonist learn some relevant information along the way. If you’re writing a Mystery for example you have to make some clues available otherwise your hero stumbles in the dark and as no chance of solving the riddle. Therefore scenes in which your protagonists makes some useful observations are beneficial for your plot.
Without action your have no story. Action really is the key point, the essence of a novel, because only action gets the story from the starting point to the finishing line. The kind of action actually has to add to the progression of the plot as well. Don’t just include meaningless action to fill the space.
Using Harry Potter as an example again you find quite a lot of scenes that combine bonding and action like Harry and Ron fighting a troll to save Hermione, which turned out to be put into the castle as a diversion to get to the philosophers stone. We get the group visiting Hagrid for tea, strengthening their relationship while finding out that Hagrid got a dragon egg. Only to later learn that he unknowingly got it from the antagonist who got the information out of Hagrid on how to get past Fluffy.
At the end of the day I would first concentrate on each plot-relevant scenes you need to get to the ending of your novel. Once you know the general scenes you can add additional information that’s relevant to the development of the characters. You don’t have to include whole scenes to include small, but important information. You can just smartly add it to another scene.
What do you think? Do you find it easy to outline your novel or do you feel challenged? Tell us about your experiences 🙂
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