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Thread: How do you write two scenes happening simultaneously?

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW texas_girl's Avatar
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    How do you write two scenes happening simultaneously?

    I'm not sure if this question has been asked before, but here goes...

    I've run into a problem with my book. I have two characters both in different places (one's in a house, the other is outside) and I feel that both scenes are important to my novel. How do I include both scenes and represent that they are happening at the same time? Thanks.

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    Makes Things Up cameron_chapman's Avatar
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    Is it absolutely necessary that your reader know they're happening at the same time? Would something be lost if readers didn't know it was simultaneous? If not, then just write one, and then the other. Which order to put them in is up to you and the needs of your story.
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    If it is important that both happen simultaneously, just alternate paragraphs with a line break between each POV to show the reader clearly that the POV changes.

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    Retired Illuminatus dangerousbill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AmsterdamAssassin View Post
    If it is important that both happen simultaneously, just alternate paragraphs with a line break between each POV to show the reader clearly that the POV changes.
    Yah. I was thinking alternating short scenes, too, maybe longer than a paragraph, but a single event per scene, then cut away to the other scene. Think how this problem is solved in the movies. In the first sentence of each short scene, you need to slip in identifying information such as a character's name, or clues to the location, to help the reader keep track of which overall scene s/he's in.

    But I think this is a last resort if there is no way to make it work with a simple, single pov switch.
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    Very Necessary serabeara's Avatar
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    You don't need to alternate paragraphs. You can separate the scenes and still easily let the reader know they happen simultaneously.

    For example: Your POV characters are Suzie and Bob. At the end of chapter 2 Suzie walks out the door and Bob stays inside. Chapter 3 is what is going on with Bob inside. Chapter 4 starts in Suzie's POV as she is closing the front door and stepping off the porch. The reader will understand both happened at the same time.

    I've read lots of books that do this, and I do this in my MS as well.


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  6. #6
    Scribbler SuperModerator dpaterso's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by texas_girl View Post
    I've run into a problem with my book. I have two characters both in different places (one's in a house, the other is outside) and I feel that both scenes are important to my novel. How do I include both scenes and represent that they are happening at the same time? Thanks.
    I have to assume you're using 3rd person limited or similar, so you can't shift between characters in the same scene. I'd use scene breaks, as often as needed, e.g. and just for fun's sake:

    In the kitchen, Bob picked up the bloody knife. He stared, fascinated, as ruby droplets fell to the tiled floor, making a pattern.
    #
    Mike stopped halfway up the path, his sixth sense for danger tingling. Without knowing why, he drew his Glock and thumbed the safety off.
    #
    Bob slowly licked the blade, enjoying the taste of Marcie. Poor Marcie, who would never cheat on him again.
    #
    Mike reached the front door and saw it was open. An inch gap allowed him to see inside. A body lay sprawled on the floor. A woman, blonde, face down. Possibly dead.
    #
    Bob pressed himself into the space behind the fridge. He'd seen the shadow at the front door. One of Marcie's lovers, come to pay her a visit. Well, now. Wasn't that interesting? Bob gripped the knife so tight that his hand hurt.
    #
    etc. etc.

    Thanks to Bob, Mike and Marcie for helping with this demo. Marcie? Marcie?! Bob, put the knife down! Put it down! BLAM! BLAM!

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    If you go for the common way to do this, in most books they will use the way I wrote about and dpaterso elaborated on.

    You can, of course, get creative, but that can also backfire.

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    Fantastic historian Anne Lyle's Avatar
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    Another vote for the alternating scenelets - I do this in a couple of sections of my book. Great way to keep the tension wound tight
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    DenturePunk writer bearilou's Avatar
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    I'm liking serabeara's suggestion about picking event both would know/witness and using those as touchpoints within the scene to give the reader a sense of timing.
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    practical experience, FTW Lil's Avatar
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    Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

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    King of the Kitties Quentin Nokov's Avatar
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    I actually recently did this so maybe I'll be of some help. I used a siren to tie the readers to a specific point in time. One character was in the library and another in the woods.

    Character #1 (In the Library)


    A siren screeched over the Spirit World, and armored troops were leaping out of their barracks. . . .


    Character #2 (In the woods. After scene shift)


    A whirl-of-a-noise sounded over the tops of the trees.


    Tao twitched his kitten ears back. He listened attentively to the shrill piercing the air for a moment or two. . . .


    Each scene is longer and both characters have their objectives, of course, but I throw in the siren, to allow the readers to discern what time frame each scene/character is in.


    So, in your chapter, you could have the clock striking twelve for the character in the house, and the character outside could have a wristwatch that beeps once every hour, on the hour, allowing the readers to attribute a time frame for each scene.

    Character #1 (Inside the House)

    She paced the floor, biting away at her nails when a metal gong sent springing upwards a couple feet. Ding Dong. Twelve O'Clock. . . .


    Character #2 (Outside the House)

    He clenched his knife and crept through bushes. His wristwatch beeped and flashed green for a moment. Twelve O'clock. Time to strike.


    Just an idea.
    Last edited by Quentin Nokov; 06-01-2011 at 06:31 PM.
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  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW texas_girl's Avatar
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    Thanks for all your comments! They are all good suggestions and should help me figure it out.

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    Kendy's Father, Maureen's Husband nathanrudy's Avatar
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    Definitely two full scenes consecutively, as long as the two characters don't interact with each other. It would be too confusing to have them both paragraph by paragraph.

    This is actually pretty common in a lot of thrillers, and allows the writer to build suspense in the first part and then answer that suspense in the second.


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    I believe you have my stapler beckahrah's Avatar
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    I agree with serabeara. You can write it in a different chapter and still let teh reader know the scenes happened at the same time. I liked her approach, although you could even go simpler than that. "Meanwhile..." etc.

  15. #15
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Write scene one.

    Start scene two with "Meanwhile, back at the ranch...." or words to that effect.

  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW texas_girl's Avatar
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    Would it be okay to separate the two scenes by asterisks?

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    Very Necessary serabeara's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AmsterdamAssassin View Post
    If you go for the common way to do this, in most books they will use the way I wrote about and dpaterso elaborated on.
    That is not the common way it's done. Most books will complete the scene of one POV character before moving to the simultaneous scene of the other character. Jumping back and forth really won't work in most situations.

    Quote Originally Posted by texas_girl View Post
    Would it be okay to separate the two scenes by asterisks?
    Yes. It doesn't need to be chapter breaks, I just used that to make the example simple.


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  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW texas_girl's Avatar
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    Thank you serabeara.

  19. #19
    Fantastic historian Anne Lyle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by serabeara View Post
    That is not the common way it's done. Most books will complete the scene of one POV character before moving to the simultaneous scene of the other character. Jumping back and forth really won't work in most situations.
    I assumed the paragraphs in the example were very short just to keep it simple, not as a literal example of rapid switching.

    As with everything, you adjust the length of these scene fragments to control the pace of the overall scene. Learning to get that right is part of your development as a writer.
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    Quote Originally Posted by serabeara View Post
    That is not the common way it's done. Most books will complete the scene of one POV character before moving to the simultaneous scene of the other character. Jumping back and forth really won't work in most situations.
    I've read plenty of suspense novels where the scene is split in microscenes between protagonist and antagonist, alternated with line breaks to show change in POV. These microscenes, as I call them, would be several paragraphs long, but have no conclusion yet, hence they're not 'complete scenes'.

    If you shift at the end of the complete scene, the outcome of the scene would be known at the beginning of the shift in POV. So you'd carry A through the complete scene, but when B's POV comes up, you'd already know what was going to happen [since you've seen the end of the scene from A's POV], which would defeat the purpose if there was any suspense involved.

    Or maybe our definition of a 'complete scene' differs.

  21. #21
    Fantastic historian Anne Lyle's Avatar
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    I agree with AA - a "scene" is a unified section of the plot, with a beginning, middle and end, and you can most definitely have multiple "scenelets" (or whatever you want to call them) within this, where you switch between PoV characters. I have a chapter in my book where one PoV character is at a theatre performance and the other PoV is trying to get to him with some important news, so I call that a single scene, even though it's several separate "scene" documents in Scrivener.
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