Monday, March 12, 2012

The Big Secret to Writing Great Scenes

I've been writing for over 15 years and it wasn't until last year that I gave this serious thought. A lot of times I see this in beginning writers, but it also appears with veterans of the keyboard. Ironically this is the type of thing you do not easily find in books on writing. Here are two scenes I came across recently.

In the first one, John Doe is driving home from his girlfriend's house after spending a boring evening with her parents. The drive is long and rainy.  Foremost on him mind is the big meeting with the boss. When he gets home, Sally calls to let him know he forgot his sunglasses.

The other one has the detective, sidekick and perhaps a few friends sitting in a bar (or  restaurant or an office) discussing the case and what the next step will be.  By the scene's end everyone parts ways, perhaps with a idea of what to next.

What is wrong with these two scenes?

. . . . . . . . . . .Times up!

Nothing happens. From the start of the scene to the end, the status quo is maintained.  To write a good scene, something has to happen that directly affects the plot or a subplot.

The next thing is change.  Something changes when the scene has ended. Things are not the same as before. The change in most cases will complicate things or at least carry an existing complication further. Occasionally it may resolve a conflict, but create a new one.  Exception is the book's end that resolves the big complication.

Finally, the change involves choices.  A decision is made that will affect the course of the story.

Back to the first scene. John Doe is driving home from his girlfriend's house after spending a boring evening with her parents. The drive is long and rainy. A tire blows out. He looses control of the car and careens into a ditch. (something happened). With no cell phone signal, he decides to start walking. Soon a Lamborghini driven by knock-out gorgeous woman comes by, and she offers him a ride  He hesitates knowing how jealous his girlfriend Sally can be but decides to take the ride anyway. (A decision was made.) When he finally has a signal, the cell phone rings and it's Sally calling to tell him he forgot his sunglasses. At that moment, the woman driving the car happens to say something about going to his home. Sally hears her and gets the wrong idea, They fight. She calls him a two-timing jerk and hangs up.  (Something changed).

I'll let you figure out how to fix the talking heads.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard it described as each scene needing to have a mission. If it doesn't move the story forward, it can (and should) be cut. Some of my early writing suffered from this. Writing for the sake of writing is all well and good, but it bores the reader and wastes their time.