How to Simplify and Focus the Scenes of Your Novel

by Susan May Warren, @SusanMayWarren

Why can’t readers just be inside my brain? That’s the problem, isn’t it? Trying to help the reader grasp a scene without giving them too little information, or also overwhelming them.

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So often, I have my cast of characters, and I want to throw everybody into the first scene, treating them as old friends (which they are to me), without remembering that my reader hasn’t met them yet. Here’s a scene of my book, Reclaiming Nick. I wanted to portray Nick as the hero he is…but with all the players in the scene, it became clunky, and hard for the reader to follow. Let’s take a look. (My comments are in italics)


When the lanky form of Saul Lovell walked into the Watering Hole Café, dragging with him the remnants of the April chill, Nick Noble knew that his last hope of redemption had died. (SMW: I don’t know why, but I felt that this sentence needed a beat. Also, I wanted to pinpoint what time of year – early April or late April. )

Nick didn’t have time to deal with the arrival of his father’s lawyer. Not with one fist wrapped in the collar of Stinky Jim’s (SMW: Stinky Jim sounds like a caricature, let’s dump that) duster and a forearm pinning his cohort Rusty to the wall.

“We were simply offering to buy her lunch,” Rusty snarled.
“I’m not stupid. I know exactly what you were offering.” Nick motioned for the girl (SMW: because there are so many names, esp. in this first scene, let’s focus on just the main players) to move away from the pair as he upped his pressure against Rusty’s Adam’s apple. “It’s okay, honey. They’re just fresh from riding fence. You go home now and say hi to your folks from me.”

He didn’t comment on her low-cut shirt or the way it seemed to have material missing at the waistline, either. And a run into Miles City (SMW: ditto on all the places referenced in the first chapter. Focus on where they are, and why it is important) for looser fitting pants might be in order. He’d have to swing by the Carlisle place tonight, warn Erma and Bill (SMW: cut out this name, and just put in the place holder – her parents) about their daughter’s recent bent toward trouble.

Only, that wasn’t his job anymore, was it? He had to stop thinking like a cop before it landed him into more hot water.

She glanced at Rusty, as if hurt, then turned on her boot heel and flounced toward the door, followed by her best friend, blonde and dangerous Carla Wainwright. (again, cut out the names to make it smoother)

Nick didn’t like the way Stinky watched them leave. “If I see you within ten feet of them, I’ll run you all the way back to Rapid City.” (SMW: Now I’ve mentioned both Miles City AND Rapid City…and they’re actually in a town called Wellesly! Too confusing)
Stinky shoved him away, and Nick let go, not interested in swallowing one more whiff of day-old whiskey breath.

Now, let’s look at the changes I made to smooth it out:

When the lanky form of Saul Lovell walked into the Watering Hole Café, dragging with him the remnants of the late April chill, Nick Noble knew that his last hope of redemption had died.

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Nick didn’t have time to deal with the arrival of his father’s lawyer. Not with one fist wrapped in the collar of Jim’s duster and a forearm pinning his cohort Rusty to the wall.
“We were simply offering to buy her lunch,” Rusty snarled.

“I’m not stupid. I know exactly what you were offering.” Nick motioned for the girl to move away from the pair as he upped his pressure against Rusty’s Adam’s apple. “It’s okay, honey. They’re just fresh from riding fence. You go home now and say hi to your folks from me.”

He didn’t comment on her low-cut shirt or the way it seemed to have material missing at the waistline, either. And a run into Miles City three hours south for looser fitting pants might be in order. He’d have to swing by her parents’ place after closing tonight to warn them of their daughter’s recent bent toward trouble.

Only, that wasn’t his job anymore, was it? He had to stop thinking like a cop before it landed him into more hot water.

She glanced at Rusty, as if hurt, then turned on her boot heel and flounced toward the door, followed by her blonde best friend.

Nick didn’t like the way Stinky watched them leave. “If I see you within ten feet of them, I’ll run you all the way back to the border.”

Better, huh? Rule of thumb – only name the characters and places essential to the scene, streamlining it so that readers can capture the conflict, and aren’t bogged down on names that they will only forget. (Because the point is for them to remember — the hero!)

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READ MORE WRITING TIPS

Sparking Emotions in Your Readers by Kathleen Freeman

5 Types of Rough Drafts by Michelle Griep

The Rhythm of Rest by Allen Arnold


Troubled Waters (Montana Rescue Book #4)

Billionaire Ian Shaw can have everything he wants–except a happy ending. Or at least that’s what it feels like with his fortune recently liquidated, his niece, Esme, still missing, and the woman he loves refusing to speak to him. In fact, he doubts she would date him even if they were stranded on a deserted island.

Despite her love for Ian, Sierra Rose knows he has no room in his life for her as long as the mystery of his missing niece goes unsolved. The only problem is, Sierra has solved it, but a promise to Esme to keep her whereabouts secret has made it impossible to be around Ian.

When the PEAK chopper is damaged and Sierra lacks the funds to repair it, Ian offers a fundraising junket for large donors on his yacht in the Caribbean. But the three-day excursion turns into a nightmare when a rogue wave cripples the yacht and sends the passengers overboard. Shaken up and soaked to the bone, Ian finally has a chance to test his theory when he and Sierra do indeed find themselves washed up on a strange, empty shore.

It will take guts and gumption for the PEAK team to rescue the duo. But it will take a miracle to rescue Ian and Sierra’s relationship.

Susan May Warren is owner of Novel Rocket and the founder of Novel.Academy. A Christy and RITA award-winning author of over fifty novels with Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill, Summerside Press and Revell publishers, she’s an eight-timeChristy award finalist, a three-time RITA Finalist, and a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award and the ACFW Carol. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she’s also the author of the popular writing method, The Story Equation. A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com. Contact her at: susan@mybooktherapy.com.