Freeze Frame: Creating a Stronger Scene

by Beth Vogt @bethvogt

We all know the advantage of prep work when we paint a room or cook a Thanksgiving turkey.

In the same way, it helps to do some prep work before writing a scene. I’ve used several techniques from author Susan May Warren – FOCUS and the 5 Ws are two favorites. And when I attended a writers conference last year, I learned the Freeze Frame technique by agent and author Donald Maass, and found a fresh new way to prep a scene.
DISCLOSURE: Maass shares this method in his book The Fire in the Fiction, recommending it for writing scenes of violence and sex. I don’t write those kinds of scenes. However, I still recommend using this tool to create stronger scenes for your novel.

When doing the Freeze Frame process, think of the scene you want to write like a movie scene. You’re going to divide your scene into five segments: Freeze Frame #1, Freeze Frame #2, Freeze Frame #3, Freeze Frame #4, and Freeze Frame #5.

For Freeze Frame #1:

  1. Think of an interesting moment and then write down what is happening. Sometimes I write down snippets of dialogue, as well as action. 
  2. Add what it is like – Comparable to what? It is like (_______.) This is a great chance to discover a metaphor or a simile to use throughout your scene. Ex: It is like my character is standing before a judge, defending himself. 
  3. Add one detail only the POV character will notice – something not obvious. It doesn’t have to be visual. This is a great reminder to engage all five senses. 
  4. If we could get into the POV character’s head at this exact moment, what are they feeling? Cross out what you wrote down. Answer the question again: What is your POV character feeling? This is an opportunity to move past the surface and dig into the deeper emotions. 
  5. Repeat this step four more times (#2, #3, #4, #5), always advancing your scene, staying in your POV character’s head. 

As I’ve utilized this tool, I’ve realized that I won’t necessarily use all five “what is it like?” elements that I develop. Five similes or metaphors can end up cluttering a scene. Rather, what I’ve discovered is that one comparison – metaphor or simile – is often stronger than all the others and can be woven through the entire scene.

I’m using the Freeze Frame process as I fast draft my current novel. But you could also write your rough draft and then use the Freeze Frame tool to rewrite your manuscript – improving and strengthening your scenes. It’s all about considering your POV character and:

  • slowing scenes down 
  • looking for interesting aspects/actions 
  • finding potential metaphors or similes
  • digging deeper than your POV character’s surface emotion 

Why not go ahead and try the Freeze Frame technique on a scene you’re working on? Or share how you improve your scenes in the comment section.

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Beth K. Vogt
is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an Air Force family physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. Now Beth believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” As a contemporary romance novelist, Beth is a 2016 Christy Award winner and 2016 Carol Award winner for her novel Crazy Little Thing Called Love. She was also a 2015 RITA® Finalist for her novel Somebody Like You, which was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2014. In 2015, Beth introduced her destination wedding series with both an e-novella, Can’t Buy Me Love, and a novel, Crazy Little Thing Called Love. She continued the series in 2016 with the e-novella You Can’t Hurry Love (May) and the novel Almost Like Being in Love (June). Her novella A November Bride was part of the Year of Wedding Series by Zondervan. Beth enjoys writing contemporary romance because she believes there’s more to happily-ever-after than the fairy tales tell us. Find out more about her books at bethvogt.com. An established magazine writer and former editor of Connections, the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth is also part of the leadership team for My Book Therapy, the writing community founded by best-selling author Susan May Warren. She lives in Colorado with her husband Rob, who has adjusted to discussing the lives of imaginary people, and their youngest daughter, Christa, who loves to play volleyball and enjoys writing her own stories.