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Making a Scene

By Sherry Harris

in Northern Virginia

I decided to put my editor’s hat on today and talk about ending a scene.  Everyone talks about dramatic openings but there isn’t as much written about how to end a scene. A dramatic end is as important as a dramatic opening. Start in the middle and end in the middle. Ask yourself will the end of this scene make the reader want to read the next scene?

Don’t end with description. Sure Susie might be exhausted at the end of the day hunting a serial killer. But your reader doesn’t need to know she returns to her bedroom with its pink, puffy comforter, floral chaise lounge, and pile of Cosmopolitan magazines flowing onto the floor. The description of the room likely belongs somewhere in the manuscript just not here. We want to leave Susie as she puts her gun back in her holster or pounds her fist on the hood of her car as the serial killer eludes her once again. Hallie Ephron in her book, The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel, says: Does it end strong and as early as possible, or does it just dribble off?

Do end with a question. I’m not talking about a rhetorical question with Susie thinking, How will I ever find the serial killer? Or a question that requires a question mark. “What are we going to do tomorrow to find the serial killer, Joe?” Susie asked.  Although you can end the scene with either of those, a stronger end leaves an unanswered question in the reader’s mind and will keep them reading. Say your reader knows the serial killer lures Susie to an abandon coal mine and has a booby trap waiting for her. End the scene so they are wondering what will happen to Susie if she goes out to the old coal mine. Will she see the booby trap or fall into it and be captured?

End with a strong line. John Dufrense in his book The Lie That Tells A Truth, says: The last line is as important as the first, if for different reasons. End the story on your best, or second best, line. Don’t write past it. John is talking about the end of the book but this is also applies to the end of your scene.

Read short stories. There isn’t room for a lot of extras in short stories. The end of the scene below sums up what I’ve been saying. It is an example from the short story “House Calls” by Barbara Ross from the Blood Moon anthology.

Dr. Botwin moved his chair closer. “It’s okay. We’ll get through this. I’ll be here to help you every step of the way.” He covered my left hand with his own, his wedding ring resting on top of mine. An electric shock ran up my arm.

Barb could have continued on. The woman could have pulled her arm away and run out the door. Or she could have thrown herself across the desk to kiss or slap Dr. Botwin. But Barb’s way propels us to the next scene.

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