One memorable scene can make the difference.
April 23, 2015
I CONSIDER SOME OF THE NOVELS I’ve read great for one reason. They have a least one scene I remember long after I have forgotten the names of the characters and sometimes even the plots.
One great scene can make the difference.
On the Beach, written by Nevil Shute, was described by The New York Times as “the most haunting evocation we have of a world dying of radiation after an atomic war.” A reviewer for The San Francisco Chronicle called the novel “the most shocking fiction I have read in years. What is shocking about it is both the idea and the sheer imaginative brilliance with which Mr. Shute brings it off.”
It is a gripping novel.
It is a suspenseful story.
But there is one single scene that still makes my blood run cold. America has been bombed. America strikes back. The Soviets rain hellfire on China. And radiation poison triggered by a nuclear war is slowly being blown by winds around the world.
Those who haven’t been killed will soon die.
Perhaps, already, there is no one left, with the exception of the crew of a nuclear submarine. The commander hears a telegraph message coming through from the coast of Australia. The words don’t make sense, but there is hope from the far side of the world. Perhaps there is a pocket of survivors down under.
The commander heads for Australia, and on a bleak, gray, dying day, dares to risk potentially deadly radiation to track down the telegraph operator.
In an abandoned building, he finds that a soft drink bottle has blown against the telegraph keys, and it keeps on sending out a message that no one understands.
There is no one there.
There is no sign of life.
Everyone is gone.
The scene is the stuff of nightmares.
In 1984, George Orwell wrote one of the most disturbing scenes and sequences ever put on paper. He created Room 101, which contained whatever the occupant found to be the most impossible in life to endure.
The Party is determined to alter the way Winston thinks with a frightening mixture of torture and electroshock therapy.
The Party thinks he is cured.
He has a secret.
And the Party wants to know what it is.
Winston is sent to the dreaded Room 101, the most frightening and repugnant room hidden away in the Ministry of Love.
Within four walls from which no one cannot escape, a person is forced to face his or her greatest fear, and Winston is deathly afraid of rats.
A cage filled with hungry vermin is placed over his head. When the door is opened, they will eat their way through his skull.
The words are drowned out by the screams.
It is a living nightmare.
Winston gives up his secret and betrays the only one he loves.
The scene is indeed one that crawls into your consciousness and stays for a long, long time. In fact, it created such a vivid and terrifying impression that some hotels have refused to even number a Room 101.
Too many know the gripping fear and horror that suffocated the room.
No one wants to stay there.
Sometimes, I’m sure, the great scenes in great novels are well planned and well plotted.
Often they just happen.
Mostly, I believe, they just spill out of a writer’s mind and imagination before he or she really has time to realize what is going on.
As you write your novel, you will no doubt connect enough scenes to fill out three hundred pages or more.
It’s important to make sure that one of those scenes is worth remembering even when the storyline has faded from memory.