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Three Steps + One to Scene Writing

“What is a scene?”

According to Weatherly and Corner, “A scene is a sequence where a character or characters engage in some sort of action and/or dialogue. Scenes should have a beginning, middle, and end (a mini-story arc), and should focus around a definite point of tension that moves the story forward.” ("Teach Yourself How to Write a Blockbuster," by Lee Weatherly and Helen Corner (p. 40)

“What is the purpose of a scene?

“Scenes allow storytellers to show the incremental change over time as the protagonist makes sense of and assigns meaning to the unexpected event that kicks off the story.” (“How to Write Scenes: Structure, Examples, and Definitions - Story Grid” by Shawn Coyne.

Scenes can be difficult to write, but much easier when you understand the three basic needs that must be included in a scene:

1.      Purpose,
2.      barrier(s) to the character’s goal,
3.      an ending, plus
4.      something unexpected.
Purpose: "Does the scene advance the plot? Reveal character? Both?"

  • A detective is asking the husband questions about his murdered wife, trying to figure out possible guilt.

  • A high school student with a gun is hidden in the school bathroom, talking to himself about his plan to shoot a teacher.

Barrier: Who or what is keeping the character from achieving his goal?

  • While the detective is trying to figure out possible guilt, the husband’s responses have nothing to do with the questions.

  • The mother of the high school students continues texting him, interrupting his thoughts.

Ending: "A scene needs to end well, not so well,  horribly,
and/or a cliff hanger to get the reader to turn that page."

In my latest thriller, “What Lies Beneath the Willow,” the first scene is actually the prologue. (Note the last sentence.

”He had warned her repeatedly never to bring that child back. He should never have agreed to see her in the first place. It was his duty and out of kindness, tending to the mother and her child who said it was hard to find good doctors who were willing to take Medicaid patients. He didn’t know. How could he?
Each time she returned with her child, on the weekends, after hours, after sunset, the child was worse but always with the same afflictions, urinary tract infections, typical for a girl her age, reportedly fifteen years old. Yet, this child, fifty-four inches tall, eight-six pounds, thinner every visit, was the size of a ten-year-old. Bruises were from falling, and banging herself against furniture, ‘an awkward, clumsy kid,’ her mother said. His suspicions grew with each visit. Yet, yet he let it go, tending to her for over a year now. He was in too deep.
He is working late as he often did on Sundays, preparing for the week, reviewing the schedule and patient files. His quiet time, alone and safe with his own thoughts, his habit since his wife died birthing their only child, a son, Philip Andrew.
Sipping Frog’s Leap Cabernet and puffing on a Davidoff Oliva, he lists those things for which he is grateful. A practice necessary for his mental wellbeing, as with any physician bombarded with patients’ poor health, disease, and death.
He stares out the window through the wavey, antique glass, which distorts his view of the harbor. The halfmoon, the only light, reflects off the water. As his father’s grandfather clock gongs once, he raises his glass in his memory too quickly. Red wine splatters on the sleeve of his white coat. Mesmerized, he watches three crimson drops slowly expand through the crisp cotton fibers, creating an imperfect ragged-edge rectangle.
He blots with a cotton swab drenched with alcohol, but the stain persists, fading to a mauvy purple. More alcohol and icy water prove futile, so he rubs frantically until he’s startled by five raps on the front door.
Is it the day, the time, or the familiar crisp, frenzied knocking that took his breath?
The gorged cotton swab thuds in the bottom of the metal trash bin. He snaps off his desk lamp, trudges to the outer office, grousing under his breath, and opens the door. The porch is cloaked in darkness.
“How many times have I told you?”
He strains his neck, listening. A cacophony of croaking bullfrogs and chirping crickets is the only sounds.
“I know it’s you.” As he steps over the threshold, he nearly trips when his shoe gets caught on something. Something soft but large enough to cause him to stumble.
Squatting and squinting in the blackness, he shifts his weight, leaning closer on one knee. It’s the child. Her body. The familiar sickeningly sweet smell burns his eyes and stings nose. He jerks his head away, sucks in a flurry of air, and clears moisture from his eyes with his stained sleeve.
He gently scoops her up and slowly shoves the door closed with his foot.
No need to rush.”
Finally, in “Super Structure: the key to unleashing the power of a story,” James Scott Bell says to end with something unexpected. “This can be a plot twist, a new character, a fresh description, even a line of dialogue. Anything that throws a reader’s expectations off is a good thing.” (p.32)
Scenes serve as the framework of your novel and simply cannot be approached haphazardly. This blog is just the beginning when studying the craft of writing scenes.

Watch for more blogs on this topic.
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