Challenge 3: Have your scene critiqued by Harlequin editors

by Patience Smith, Senior Editor, Romantic Suspense

Now it’s your turn!

What is a scene?  In simple terms: It’s where an event occurs. In real life, you have many “events” but not all of them are significant: making dinner, brushing teeth, waking up. For a novel, you need to provide scenes that move the story along.  So, the day-to-day scene and events can be a nice slice of life here and there, but for a romance, you need to cut to the chase: write and show us the most exciting parts of a love story.

What makes a scene great?  Drama, tension, setting, characters, conflict and that special “x factor” that keeps a reader turning the pages until three in the morning.  You know a good scene when you see/ read one.  The hairs on your skin rise up and you’re rooted to the ground/bed/bathtub/plane seat.  You think you might die if you don’t find out what happens next.  Your spouse needs to do laundry/dishes/cleaning for the next few hours or he/she and children are ignored altogether.

For a successful romance, fabulous scenes are a must.  Readers need to see the characters, sympathize with them (or at least feel something about them), and want to turn the page. By the end, the reader should wonder how the hero/heroine is going to make it through this journey.  You, the reader, may be crying or laughing hysterically because you can’t believe that character could do such a thing.  And you never forget that moment in a story.

Remember these scenes?

  • Lizzie tells Darcy that he’s the last man she could ever marry.
  • Scarlett holds the turnip in the air and determines never to starve.
  • In the deli, Sally does something a little outrageous to prove a point to Harry.
  • All the instances where Kay Scarpetta is called to solve a crime as she examines a corpse.
  • Bridget Jones finds that Daniel Cleaver has been cheating on her.
  • Richard Gere interrupts Julia Roberts’s bath to make her the offer of a lifetime (extra points if you remember which song she’s listening to on her Walkman).

Think of the scenes that affected you. What made them memorable for you?  Why was this scene important for the story?  How did it change the characters?  Your scene could be as simple as a trip to the store—where something crucial occurs (and not a discount on canned peas, even though this can be exciting). A useful exercise would be to think of pivotal scenes from your own life, the ones that flash through your mind at odd moments and those that have shaped you into the person you are today.  Scenes are vital. They don’t have to involve a burning building, gunfights and car chases.  They could show an exchange of some kind, but this exchange has to move the story forward in a major way.

Here are some tips:

  1. Show us the characters. What are they doing?  What are they feeling?
  2. Introduce the conflict in the scene.  What are they fighting for?
  3. Provide atmosphere.  Where are they?
  4. Move things along.  Excite your reader!

So, now that you’ve done some pondering, it’s time for you to show us your scenes. Make us—the editors—burn to know what comes next for your characters.  You may have the scene in your head—a good starting point.  Next you need to describe it to us.  Take us on a journey—a succinct one you can encapsulate beautifully in 3-5 pages (or 750-1250 words).  We’d love to see your wonderful scenes.  Please submit to us at ucanwrite@harlequin.ca by 6:00 p.m. EST, today, November 3, 2010.  Be sure to include in the subject heading: SYTYCW Scene Challenge. We’ll randomly pick five to critique tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m., November 4, 2010.  Good luck!

You’ll find the critiques posted on the eHarlequin.com Community. Comments have been closed here, so if you want to discuss the challenge, hop on over there and chat away!

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  1. Tweets that mention Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. -- Topsy.com
    November 3, 2010 at 11:37 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Amy Wilkins, Amy Wilkins, Dawn P, Olga Kwak, Lisa Roe and others. Lisa Roe said: RT @shana_smith #SYTYCW Challenge 3 posted on Harlequin Blog! Send a scene to be critiqued by the editors. http://tinyurl.com/2are3k9 […]