For awhile now, I've found myself giving the same piece of writing advice over and over. Finally, I've decided to just write up a whole post about it.
When do you start your first scene? How do you start it? How do you
know when to end a scene?
For questions like these, go by this rule:
Get in as late as you possibly can, and get out as early as you possibly
What this means is that you shouldn't start your book (or
your first scene, or any scene) any earlier than you need to. When does the
action start? When does the essential plot problem come into play? When is
your inciting incident? Start here, and not a minute sooner.
example, say I'm writing a book about Fred, a high school student who wants to
be a detective. His goal in the story is to solve the mystery of who stole his
friend's iPad (all my plot-building power goes into my actual books, so I have
no decent plots to use as examples). One morning, he gets up and takes a
shower. He gets dressed and grabs a poptart on his way out the door. He picks
up his friend Jason, and they have a lengthy discussion on the merits of Firefox
vs. Google Chrome. When he gets to school, he meets up with his other friend,
Bob. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a dark shadow appear, snatch the
iPad out of Bob's backpack, and disappear again.
This is where you
should start your story, right at that moment where he sees that sketchy
shadow. That's when the real plot begins. The scene where he drives Jason to
school isn't needed. It's part of Fred's life, yes, but it's not part of the
plot. It's not needed.
This same principle applies to every
scene you write. Start it as late as you possibly can, while still
having it make sense. This, then, ties into the next part of this
in-late-out-early rule. When you're finishing a scene, get out as early as
possible. What is the earliest point you can end this scene without omitting
any crucial elements? This is where it should end.
This goes for the
end of the entire book, too. You have a little more room to work here, but you
should generally follow the same rule. Don't let your ending drag. This is probably another post for another
time, so I won't get in too deep on this. But if the main plot of your story
has ended, and all loose ends have been wrapped up, don't keep going.
Stop before your readers start losing interest.
Get in late, get out
early. I don't even remember where I first heard this, but it's proved to be
one of the best pieces of advice I've received. Don't start any earlier
than you need to, and don't keep going after everything has been wrapped
Originally posted at The Epic, the Awesome, and the Random.