(Note: MC = Main Character or protagonist. BBU = Big Bad Ugly or antagonist.)
I’ve written (and spoken at Cons) about pivotal scenes and the need to give them the time and effort they deserve. And I’ve seen writers’ (almost always writers who are not commercially published) eyes glaze over in shock when I say that I’ve spent 4 or 6 hours on what turned out to be less than 200 words, or two paragraphs. Or an entire day’s writing on one tiny transitional, but pivotal scene.
A pivotal scene may be described in many ways (google it!) but my version is “the scene or scenes which are turning points or climaxes for the MC and the plot.”
But I’ve never talked about a pivotal scene and how to recognize one. The penultimate plot scene—where the MC faces the BBU—is clearly a pivotal (perhaps the pivotal) scene in a novel. But there are others in a well plotted novel that deserve as much attention as the most important one.
Briefly, a few: The inciting event—the event that sets the novel in motion is always pivotal. The scene where the MC discovers / accepts her ultimate goal. The scene where the MC learns / discovers information important to the progression of the plot. The scene where the MC is forced to turn away and take another route to her ultimate goal. A betrayal scene. A transitional scene from emotional high or low to the opposite emotional state. A transitional scene from place to place.
Spending time on such a scene is vital and will show a professional reader (agent or editor) that you have the stuff (talent and literary tools) to be a published writer. Below is a pivotal, inciting scene in its rough form, by two other writers, and used with permission of one of them. Below that, is the scene as after I gave it some time and effort, using it as a teaching moment, though admittedly I’d go over it again before I sent it to a professional reader.
Robert lurched backwards as a deafening sound exploded against his ears. His sword lifted in shock as he turned to his right to get a glimpse of the source of the noise, but found none. As he turned back he saw red sprayed across the king’s banner crest. He gasped, but shock willed him back to the fight. He repositioned his shield and took a firmer grip on his sword. He stepped forward, and now he could see blood and pieces of flesh and bone covering the formerly pristine war banner. He rushed forward, toward the mass of humanity that was now covering the High King. His closest knights were spread-eagle over the body. Other knights brandished their swords. The Most Reverend Tilldon was once again kneeling over his martyred prince, just as he had with the king’s father, High King William, murdered by foul magic. As now was his son.
It isn’t bad as an inciting event, but here’s mine:
Robert lurched backward as a deafening sound exploded against his right ear. He dragged his sword back up and parried a wild strike from a soldier in Chancel green. His ear rang with the explosion, leaving it deaf. Magic, his mind whispered.
Stumbling, he caught his balance, and looked for his king. The mighty destrier was no longer at the head of the column. Red was sprayed across the once pristine war banner—blood and flesh and bone. The king was . . . not there.
Slinging his sword against the bodies in green, Robert rushed forward, frantic, toward the mass of shields and armor on the ground, covering the High King; his closest knights were spread-eagled over him. Over his body. There was no doubt that High King Shalen was dead. Other knights brandished their swords and pushed back at the Chancel knights, screaming with rage and fear and the certainty of loss, no matter the outcome of the battle.
The Most Reverend Tilldon was once again kneeling over his martyred prince, just as he had with the king’s father, High King William, murdered by magic foul.
My version gives more details, gives an originating direction for the magical explosion, talks about the enemy, and the loss of a nation, and the fear of magic, hinting at a world not yet revealed.
Okay – your turn. If you are in the mood and have the time, take the original para (or my version)and rewrite it. There is no *right* way to do the scene. Just have fun!