How to Write a Killer Scene

Killer scenes don't have to be deadly.

I’m going to give you a secret on to how to write a killer scene. Are you ready for a very easy and very effective scene writing tip?

Come in Late, Leave Early

Wait… what?

Jean, what does “come in late, leave early” mean? And what does that have to do with writing a killer scene?

Let me explain.

Come in Late

When writing a good scene, you want to come in late. In other words, once the action is underway. There always has to be some movement or the reader gets bored. For example, I just cut a scene last week where I was not coming in late by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, my character was sitting with her grandmother DISCUSSING what action she should take and her gran suggested some ideas.

Borrrr-ring.

So I came in late. I scratched that scene and opened the next scene of Champagne and Lemon Drops with Beth already taking the action.

The benefit? The reader has to play catch up. Not so much that they feel as though they missed something huge and give up, but enough that they are curious. What is Beth doing? What is her plan? Who is she going to see? They know there is action because they are in it. And not having it all laid out beforehand I’ve created a hook that draws them in.

In other words, a knowledge deficient has been created. When humans realize they are missing a piece of information, they become naturally curious and want to fill that knowledge gap. And if you can create that in your scenes you are going to draw your readers in.

Leave Early

On the flipside, you have the end of your scene. By leaving early, you are getting out of the scene before things get drawn out and boring. If you are lucky (or talented or hardworking or all of the above) you will end your scene with another hook. Yes, start each scene with a hook and end each scene with a hook. Why? To draw the reader in to the next scene. Make them want to keep reading. Make them NEED to keep reading. They HAVE to know what happens.

Leaving early might appear as though the main conflict of the scene has been resolved, but the scene ends before the new conflict introduced in your scene (this can be your end of scene hook!) has been resolved. So, one conflict leads to the next–even if it is minor.

In that same scene mentioned above I had the scene end with her best friend saying she is going to take action–she’s going to try and solve a problem Beth hasn’t been able to. So… what happens wonders the reader. And then, to be extra cruel, the next scene moves into a new issue and only provides the follow-up to that previous end of the scene hook part way into the new scene. See how we keep it going? It’s the kind of ‘cruelty’ that pays off for the reader by keeping them reading out of curiosity.

How about you? Do you have scenes where you can come late and leave early to enhance the reader experience? Take a look at your manuscript with this in mind. Let me know what you do in the comment section.

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19 comments on “How to Write a Killer Scene
  1. Rick Pieters says:

    Jean, I love your “cruelty.” You’ve nailed something I try to keep in mind. Think of the old movie serials. If you’re always thinking “leave ’em wanting more,” then each scene should be, to a lesser or greater degree, a cliff hanger. Even if you “finish” a crisis moment, it should be left with a “but….but…” in the reader’s mind, pushing them to find out where it leads. That works for the “leave early” part. The “come in late” is also a great reminder. Leave out the boring parts. Good post.

    • jeanoram says:

      Thanks Rick! I love how you put it. If you do it right the reader should definitely be going “but, but, but…”

      Thanks for popping by the new site.

  2. everabi says:

    Very interesting, Thanks 🙂

  3. Moonshade says:

    That’s good advice. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Jemi Fraser says:

    Love the new look, Jean!!! Sleek & shiny! 🙂

    I’m getting better at arriving late, but I’m not yet strong at leaving those hooks at the end of the scenes. I tend to wrap up the scene instead – gotta work at that! Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

    • jeanoram says:

      No problem and thanks for the compliment, Jemi. I hoping by keeping it simple this new site will be easy to read and use on mobile devices. 🙂 Now to hack away at JeanOram.com! I’m still working on the hooks too. Sometimes I have to rearrange whole last paragraphs so I can end with something that maybe might cause the reader to do Rick’s “but… but…” 😉 Just keeping working on it. We’ll get there!

  5. tjloveless3 says:

    I can already name a few scenes in which I pushed Kylie in far too early *sigh* But I’m still drafting…so when the time to edit comes around…slash, cut, snip snip! along with filtering and too much tell. *grrr* but it’ll hold for another week LOL

    Fantastic advice!

    • jeanoram says:

      Glad you found the new site, TJ. Welcome. Coming in way too early is a common problem, so don’t fret–you can tweak it! 🙂

  6. Suzanne says:

    Congrats on your new site Jean! It’s already got a killer post! That’s such a simple concept and yet SO hard to actually pull off. I think I’m good at the cliffhanger on the end part. I need to cut the beginnings and the middles. Seem like they go on and on. I’m probably giving TMI when I could keep the reader guessing. I guess I’m not sure where the line is. How much do they really need to know? How much can I cut out?? Maybe that can be in your next post. 😀

    • jeanoram says:

      Thanks, Suzanne. Glad to see you made it over to the new site.

      That is such a good question. How much does the reader need to know? If I think of some good ways to explain how to know what can be cut, I’ll do a post on it. 🙂

  7. Love your new site Jean and loved the blog. I was doing some of this without realizing but I’ve been struggling with some new scenes and going to take another look at when I’m coming in and leaving the scene.

    • jeanoram says:

      Thanks, Kathy. Good to see you here.

      I think coming in late and leaving early can also impact that need to turn pages quickly for a reader as there is always something interesting going on.

      Hope it helps you out!

  8. I agree. I love anything that just makes me think about what i might already be doing and why and remind me when i’m struggling with a scene what I might be missing.

  9. Elmore Leonard does this probably better than anyone. As well as writing pitch perfect dialog.

    • jeanoram says:

      I really need to read some of Elmore Leonard’s stuff. I’ve heard great things but never checked him out.

  10. I will have to check him out too.

    • jeanoram says:

      It is way too easy to buy ebooks these days! I’m resisting… resisting… (just filled my ereader with about 10 books on the weekend and my TBR pile was already huge!)… still resisting… barely.

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