Action, Conflict, Scenes!
Scenes and summary are building blocks of stories–both fiction and memoir. A scene is a piece of story action, rendered continuously moment-by-moment, without summary, but with action and, often, dialogue. A scene can be acted out on stage.
She wants, he wants:
Characters work in conflict. If they both want to go to the same party and they go, sorry, no conflict, no scene. In contrast, let’s say Joe and Suzy are on their third date and Joe wants to take Suzy to Dave’s party. Dave is Joe’s best friend. But Suzy absolutely doesn’t want to go to Dave’s party–Joe just pointed out Dave’s picture on the fridge and he is the guy she slept with the day before she met Joe. Suzy never had a one-night stand until Dave…you get the idea. Joe and Suzy have opposing goals and plenty of conflict, meaningful goals, and the stakes are rising.
Draft you scenes focusing on both characters’ wants, and forget about plot. Follow the heat of their conflict.
Skin in the game:
Meaningful stakes! Think “life and death.” Suzy believes she’s falling in love with Joe. But if he finds out she slept with Dave…meanwhile, Joe thinks Suzy could be “the one,” but he’s adamant about not dating promiscuous women. Oh, no. They are headed for calamity. Actually, that’s excellent!
Arrive late, leave early:
One saw of scenes: “Arrive late, leave early.” It’s the “get in and get out” rule—and it means you don’t begin with characters talking about the weather and you look nice and so do you…you know. However, they might talk about the weather to avoid more dangerous topics and to get what they want. Jump into the heat of the scene and don’t linger for boring goodbyes.
But not too early:
Okay, I just advised that you “get in and get out” of your scenes. Now I’ll contradict myself and say, in first drafts, let the scene run long—you can always cut later. Sometimes we writers jump out of a scene too soon to avoid confrontation, and/or to avoid things on our “taboo list.” Stay in a scene and write longer to see if there is more. Again, you can, and will, cut later.
Scenes start with characters who have goals, add rising conflict, and end with calamity!
Next post, I’ll share some tips for writing great dialogue!