Tag Archives: scene

Understanding Scene Sequences

Scene SequenceA scene does not exist in isolation from other scenes. It is organically connected to the overall network of scenes that makes up a story.

Scene Sequencing

In Making a Good Script Great Linda Seger reminds us it is more useful to think of a scene as being a member of a scene sequence – scenes that are so tightly connected to one another that they create causal narrative blocks within the story.

These sequences might be chase scenes in a city that get progressively shorter until they end in a car crash or getaway; they may build up to the final explosion in The Guns of Navarone; they might culminate in two lovers reuniting as in When Harry met Sally.

In The fugitive the first sequence of scenes might be called murder and the sentencing. They form a tight causal unit and last eleven minutes in the film. The next sequence could be called the escape, leading to the train wreck. The sequence following that could be labeled after him and include the scenes of Deputy Sam Gerard starting the chase, culminating in Kimble arriving in Chicago.

And so on.

The point is that all these scenes are grouped together by cause and effect, or, at least, action and consequence, leaving little room for irrelevant, off-the-point action.

In my novel, The Level, for example, the protagonist, in the beginning of the story, finds himself bound to a sturdy chair in a pitch black room. To make matters worse he is suffering from amnesia and has no clue why he is in this situation.

Later, a mysterious woman in a burka appears to him from the darkness and unties him. She leaves him a series of clues he needs to follow in order to escape.

The story becomes a connect-the-dots mystery, driven by dangerous traps that threaten the protagonist’s every step. It may be argued that the entire story is driven by causally connected scene sequences, each of which reveals a part of the puzzle, leaving little room for boredom.

Summary

Organise your scenes into scene sequences in order to drive the action and maintain the pace in your stories.

Scene Checklist

Checklist

Scene Checklist:

As one of the larger units of story construction, effective scenes make for effective tales. In his book, Writing Screenplays that Sell, Michael Hauge, provides us with a concise list of what to look out for in your scenes.

1. How does your scene contribute to your protagonist’s outer and inner journey? Remember the outer goal is extremely important in a story. Rumination (inner journey) is not sufficient to drive the visual thrust of your story. We need to see the protagonist engaged in outer struggles, if we are to understand his inner conflict too.

2. Does your scene, like your story, typically have a beginning, middle and end? Your scene ought to establish, build and resolve a situation. There are, of course, exceptions to this. Some scenes are short and are transitional in nature, intended solely to bridge other more important scenes, but as a general rule, this piece of advice holds true.

3. Does your scene propel the reader into the next? Causally linking one scene to the next at the level of the inner or outer journeys makes for compelling tales. In Outrageous Fortune, the scene of two women in the morgue is resolved only when they realise that the body is not that of their lover. But the end of the scene results in their decision to find him, which, in turn, drives the scenes that follow.

4. What is each character’s objective in the scene? Without an objective the scene is rudderless.

5. What is each character’s attitude in the scene? Each character wants something, overtly or covertly. (How does this want tally with that character’s need? ‘Big’ scenes ought to explore and reiterate the tension between want and need.) This want, together with that character’s personality traits, creates an attitude, a motivation. Additionally, characters bleed feelings: they are sad, nostalgic, angry, bored, scared, or turned on, etc. These feelings are revealed directly through dialogue or more subtly, through subtext and action. In Moulin Rouge Satin’s declaration that she does not love Christian, a lie she utters in order to save his life by having him leave, is shot through with irony, sadness and a sense of tragedy.

6. Do many of your scenes contain action, not just dialogue? Talking heads are best left to television soapies and past masters such as Ingmar Bergman. Of course, dialogue is perfectly acceptable in scenes, but stories benefit from the injection of telling action, from small acts such as the lifting of an eyebrow, to the landing of a punch. Imagine your screenplay with the sound off. Is the meaning of a scene still apparent through the action of your characters? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you’d be better off culling as much dialogue as possible. Unless you are Woody Allen, or Quentin Tarantino, your screenplay should not be talk-heavy.

7. Does your scene serve multiple purposes? Does your scene achieve as much as possible to keep your audience or readers emotionally involved with your protagonist and her journey to her goal? Does it reveal character background, motivation, conflict, anticipation, curiosity, credibility and identification or empathy? Does it contain foreshadowing, premonitions and the like? Again, not every scene can be cramp-packed with the above, but pivotal scenes clustered around and including your turning points, pinches, and midpoint, certainly can.

Summary

A scene checklist focuses our attention on the important elements your scene ought to contain in order to be affective.

Invitation

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Pic by AJ Cann http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7454/9568156463_86087625dd_m_d.jpg
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

Small Action, Big Drama

DoLs and tape measure

A Matter of Scale:

In my younger and more chauvinistic years, I used to think that “Drama” referred to the slow and laborious true-to-life stories that the women folk in my life loved to watch on TV while knitting jerseys. This is a particularly embarrassing admission for a Greek man to make, since the word derives from the Greek, meaning “to do” or “to act”. Luckily I have moved on since these days, though I still have the jerseys, and yes, they still fit.

As a writer of screenplays and novels, I have to focus constantly on the meaning of this word. In his book, Screenwriting, Professor Richard Walter of UCLA, writes: “(1) any action is better than no action, and (2) appropriate imaginative, integrated action, action complementing a scene’s other elements and overall purpose, is best of all.”

Action need not only be of the sort that involves Godzilla leveling cities, or King Kong swatting planes and helicopters from the top of a tall building. Action can arise in even the most ordinary or non-threatening of scenes. Richard Walter talks about one specific example, both funny and painful, that clearly illustrates this point.

In the Czechoslovakian film, Loves of a Blonde, two groups of labourers, one male and the other female, working on a project in a remote area of the Carpathian foothills end up dining in a dinning hall. Both the men and women are equally nervous about meeting each other. The scene isolates one man in particular who fidgets absentmindedly with his wedding ring. Suddenly, the ring slips from his finger and clutters loudly to the floor and begins rolling away.

Is the fidgeting subconsciously intended to conceal his marital status from the women? We suspect so. The man drops to his hands and knees and scrambles after the ring, past row after row of knees. So engrossed is he in his pursuit of the tale-tale object that he fails to notice that the knees he is shuffling past are no longer those of men but those of women! By the time he finally captures the elusive object and pops up from under the table like a jack-in-a-box, triumphantly holding the ring up in his hand, he finds himself amongst the very group of women he was he was trying to avoid seeing the ring!

The action itself is small in scale, but its emotional impact is huge, making for a scene that is fresh and inventive. It satisfies Professor Walter’s second observation of integrated action, quoted above, and exploits that age old maxim of “show don’t tell”. This is writing at its simplest and best.

Summary

Drama is action. Static scenes make for boring stories. While there is nothing wrong with largeness of scale, it should not be at the expense of smaller, well-observed actions.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

How to Orchestrate Story Rhythm

Orchestra conductor

Story Rhythm

In his book, Story, Robert McKee offers good advice on how to manage story rhythm. This post explores this very important technique.

Story Rhythm

Story rhythm arises when values within a section of narrative alternate in charge. This can happen within a single scene, between scenes within an act, and between correlated scenes within different acts. McKee reminds us, for example, that the two most powerful scenes in a story are the last two act climaxes. Seen as a unit, they orchestrate a crucial rhythm, which can only arise if the value of the one scene differs from the other.

If the Hero achieves an aspect of his goal at the end of the second act, the climax of the next act must be negative—she must fail to achieve her goal in some important way. In the words of McKee, “You cannot set up an up-ending with an up-ending… (or)…a down-ending with a down-ending.” Things can’t be great, then get even better, or bad and get even worse. That’s slack storytelling devoid of tension. If you want an up-ending, set up the previous act’s climax to yield a negative charge, and vice versa.

Irony as Climax

If a story climaxes in irony, however, the result is an ending that contains both positive and negative charges, although one value tends to gain prominence over the other. McKee offers the example of Othello as an illustration of this. In the play, the Moor achieves his goal/desire to have a wife who loves him and has never betrayed him with another man (positive charge). But he only discovers this after he has murdered her (negative charge). The overall effect is one of negative irony. Positive irony is achieved when the positive charge prevails. In the film of the same name, Mrs. Soffel (Diane Keaton) goes to prison for life (negative irony). But she does so having achieved her life’s desire of having achieved a transcendent romantic experience (positive irony).

Summary

Story rhythm is established when important scenes alternate in value. If a scene ends with a negative charge, its correlating scene must end in a positive one, and vice versa. This, of course, need not be on a scene-by-scene basis. Correlation can exist between scenes that are separated by many others. Typically, the penultimate and final climax scenes are correlated, as are many others.

How to Generate Novel Story Ideas

Head in a labyrinth with light bulb

Generating New Story Ideas

How does one generate new and exciting ideas for one’s stories? This perennial and important question has had many answers. Listed below, are some of them:

Idea-Generating Techniques

— Use personal experience to spark new and authentic story ideas. This helps to add verisimilitude and uniqueness to any piece of creative writing because it is based on first-hand knowledge of real-life situations.

— Keep a file of newspaper and magazine articles and stories; also, short notes on television documentaries and programs that have caught your eye. Use them to kick-start your thinking on a related subject.

— Use a notebook or digital device to document interesting bits of conversation, behaviour, dreams, personal encounters, dress codes.

— Explore new ideas by brainstorming a subject with colleges and friends. Free-associate fundamental aspects of that subject by introducing nouns and verbs not usually associated with it. Note the new relationships that emerge. Those may spark new ways of looking at old ideas.

— Ask that powerful idea-generating question:’What if…’. Combine it with an unexpected or opposing idea. If, for example, your subject is about a paid soldier of fortune, you could start by asking: What if a hardened mercenary is asked to assassinate a businesswoman who turns out to be his son’s wife who is pregnant with his child?

— Mind-map a subject or idea by writing down its core meaning in the middle of a blank page or screen. Create a series of associated ideas in bubbles around that core idea and draw links from one to the other. Again, try thinking laterally by linking unrelated ideas together and see what that sparks.

— When writing a scene, make it multidimensional by exploring it with all five of your senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch. Note the dominate sense operating within the scene then replay it in your imagination, using a different sense. Note how it changes your approach to writing the scene.

Summary

There are many ways to generate new ideas for stories. Personal experience, keeping files and notebooks, brainstorming with others, using the what-if question, mind-mapping, strongly projecting one’s self into an imagined scenario by applying all five senses to it, are just some of them.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.