Over the years, bits of insight
from writing workshops have clung to my fiction writer’s brain
the way those fuzzy balls of lint stick to knit sweaters: Start
in the middle. Heighten the tension. Don’t edit til you’re
finished. Make sure you separate knits from cottons.
Ok, maybe that last one isn’t
quite writing-related, but in Raymond Obstfeld’s Novelist’s
Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes, the good news is that the
best piece of advice comes on page five—barely before you’ve had
enough time to leave a crease in the spine. In a two hundred and
eleven page book covering scenes--one of the most technical,
most important elements in successful fictional
storytelling—that’s no small feat. And it’s darn good advice to
consider when the depth and breadth of the remaining information
can send you thinking for days.
And what is this magical
advice? Plot your scenes before writing? Connect your scenes
through action and reaction? Never use flashback? While these
are good, they miss the point: Obstfeld’s advice is much, much
simpler and more intelligent to the practicing writer.
Just write it.
I like that Obstfeld starts by
sharing that the most important part of writing scenes is, well,
writing. Too often, books on writing craft delve directly into
the deep meaning, the theory and meaning of the element without
reminding the writer that getting the story out—not mentally
rehashing it for months or years at a time—is the first step in
And don’t think the simplistic
nature of Obstfeld’s advice is typical of what you’ll find in
the rest of the book—this book is a gem of a writer’s reference
you’ll use again and again.
One of the highlights in
Obstefeld’s book that you won’t find in other books on scene is
the variety of scenes he discusses. Not just the typical
action/reaction treatment, you’ll find useful insight on the
elements of the basic scene, the first meeting scene, action and
suspense scenes, comic/humor scenes, romance & sex scenes and
final scenes. He’s also devoted chapters to finding the proper
length for your scenes, choosing point of view for the most
impact, using setting in scenes, building novel structure and
the all-important but disliked revision process.
For hands-on learners, Obstfeld
includes several ‘instant workshops’ in the text for writers to
internalize the information through application. In addition,
there are ‘tip’ sidebar/boxes that share insight related to the
discussion of the moment. Peppered with numerous examples from
movies, short stories and fiction, The Novelist’s Guide to
Crafting Essential Scenes will have you rethinking your story
from the ground up—and might even get you more excited about
story structure than no-iron, eternally-creased dress pants.
About the author: Beth
Morrow is a freelance writer who once turned a load of whites
pink and has never been allowed to do laundry since. When she
isn’t helping her husband fold towels, she’s updating her
(almost) daily blog for writers at:
or writing. Her latest article on helping fiction writers
transition into freelancers can be found in the April 2007 issue
of the Romance Writers Report.