3 Must-Have Scenes That Reveal Character

Write Your Novel In A Year – Week 35: 3 Must-Have Scenes That Reveal Character


Goal setting

  1. Write the three key character scenes for your novel.

Breaking it down

1.  The monogram scene

In elegant days gone by, characters would emerge from the bathroom or boudoir wearing a monogrammed robe – it was usually white or a rich velvet affair.

In much the same way, you have to give your main characters a scene or two that ‘marks’ them as individuals – interesting characters we may want to follow in the story as readers. These scenes must show who that character is at their very essence.

It helps if you can find a brief description or key words that ‘nail’ that character. For example, my antagonist, Monty could be described as: rich, entitled, narcissistic.  OK, great – how do you show that in a scene?

For this scene, I have Monty flash his credit card to pay for drinks at a downtown club, only to have it declined, which sends him into an abusive rage with the waiter. He points out that the shoes he’s got on cost more than the waiter’s monthly
salary. Hopefully, it shows him for what he is – a rich kid who likes to get his own way.

2.  The momentum scene

Have you ever agreed to go on a blind date? There’s usually a build-up of anticipation, the date itself – it’s usually awkward and anticlimactic – and then the aftermath of the date.

Once your character has made a decision, whether a big decision or a small decision, they need to act on it – with careful deliberation or rash impulsiveness. The first could be the decision to go to gym to lose weight, the second is to eat half a chocolate cake at two in the morning.

It could be a moral decision or a life-and-death decision. It doesn’t matter. Here’s your chance to show your character – with all their strengths, flaws, anger or sense of humour – doing something.

Whatever your character decides, the natural flow of story dictates that they have to act on that decision. This gives you a chance to show your character signing up for gym, struggling to programme the treadmill, feeling foolish in their new gym gear, etc.

The point is you can’t have a character decide something and then they accomplish it in a few paragraphs. What a let down for the reader – and no fun for you as a writer!

You have to build up to that decision, tease it out in a scene, and show what comes after. It’s about moving things forward – building momentum. It’s the basic principle of scene structure: build tension and then release it.

3.  The glimpse scene

The one thing that can destroy a story is if we don’t believe the characters are real – if they seem too slick, too perfect, or too invincible, we don’t have anything for the reader to relate to. We always need a glimpse into their humanity. Just a glimpse. That’s all.

As a writer, ask: How will the readers find themselves in this character? How will they connect with this character and start to believe this character is real?  It doesn’t matter if your character is a superhero or a soccer mom – we need that connection.

A glimpse could be the ruthless tycoon who weeps when he learns his favourite Alsatian attack dog has been poisoned. It could be the doting mother who, over one too many wine spritzers, wistfully confesses to her neighbour that she dreams of running away. Show fears, secrets, flaws, all those things that make us human.

Timelock — 3 to 6 hours

Spend an hour or two on each of these key scenes.

5 Quick Hacks

  1. List your own bad habits – from smoking to procrastination. Is there a way to give one of these to your character?
  2. Write about what your character does when no one is looking – imagine you’re a fly on the wall.
  3. Write a monogram scene for a character from a favourite TV series.
  4. List as many key words that describe your character as possible. Then cross out all the uninteresting ones until you have only three or four.
  5. Write about the one decision your character always regrets making. Why do they regret it?

Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘You invent and control characters. You decide whether they live or die.’ — Sidney Sheldon

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year: Week 36: 3 Must-Have Scenes That Reveal Plot

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. Write Your Novel In A Year – Week 34: Spring Cleaning
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year – Week 33: Beginnings, Backstory, And Other Bugbears
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year – Week 32: Your 6 Indispensable Plot Pivots

This article has 5 comments

  1. Delores

    Anthony, I love your articles and pass them along to groups. Writer’s Write is my “go to” suggestion to new writers. I like you in particular because of the way you get down to the nitty-gritty without a lot of fluff, and the examples you offer which help visual learners.

    Having been a parent educator I am sure the upcoming generation appreciate you immensely.

  2. Anthony Ehlers

    Thank you, Delores. You’re very kind. I always find learning is best if it’s practical, fun, and visual.

  3. Writers Write

    Thank you, Delores. We appreciate the feedback and Anthony is fabulous.

  4. Maria Parenti-Baldey

    Thank you for sharing such insightful information.

  5. Melissa

    I love this. Your posts are so helpful for me. Please keep them coming

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