Write scenes a beat at a time
In Sandra Scofield’s The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer,the author defines the term “beats” as small units of character action and reaction.
Beats are, “the way we break down events into small steps of action, making it possible to evaluate whether those steps move the action effectively toward the culmination of the scene.”
Scofield recommends jotting down the beats of each scene before we write or before we revise in order to have a clear vision of where the scene is going. If we have a sticky or muddy scene, this exercise can help clarify the scene and make it stronger. Having the beats of a scene clearly thought out also makes it easier to control pacing and review the logic of the scene.
Recently, I had a scene that felt weak to me and too long. By writing out the beats of my scene, I was able to see that it was flat because it lacked tension. So I added a few beats of tension between two of the characters and by doing this, it actually took my scene in a new and unexpected direction that felt more exciting.
Scofield suggests that we read for beats as well. Pick a scene from a book you’re currently reading and write down the beats of that scene. Where does the scene begin and end? Write down each character action and each reaction whether it is physical or emotional.
For a more in-depth look at scene beats, check out Scofield’s book.