Saturday, 30 March 2013

Constructing Scenes - Part 1


Well constructed scenes perform a multitude of functions for the writer.  Not only do they help to support the narrative, they also help bring the story into focus, they help stitch together the story arc, but more importantly, they help relay the story for the reader.

When we refer to ‘scenes’, it usually means key scenes – the important and often significant ones that help break up the narrative into palatable chunks for the reader to understand.

But how do you construct such key scenes, and how do you make them work? 

It’s important to stress that any scene should form as a natural progression of the story arc.  It should come about because the story requires it, not because the writer forces it in order to try to make it appeal to the reader in a contrived or overt way, because readers can easily spot scenes that seemed forced or don’t quite belong to the story.

If the story is a good one, and the writer has done some planning, then these key scenes should come about fairly easily.

‘Key’ scenes are made up of smaller scenes that have various functions within the narrative.  When combined, these different types of scenes make up whole scenes:

·        Conversational scenes
·        Action/emotion scenes
·        Descriptive scenes
·        Transitional scenes
·        Flashback scenes

Some, if not all of these types of scenes, will help stitch the narrative together.  Remember, they should focus on key scenes rather than the superfluous ones.  I will use simple examples to show how this is accomplished, then in Part 2 I will demonstrate how they come together to form whole, cohesive scenes for the reader.

More often than not, most scenes in a novel will involve dialogue between characters, but these have a dual purpose – important conversations between push the story forward and they also impart necessary information to the reader.

Example:

‘Don’t expect me to help you out of this hole,’ John said.

‘Just this once,’ Dan said.  ‘I promise I won’t ask again.’

‘Yeah, you said that last time, remember? I’m still paying. I could have got caught.  I was that close.’

‘But you didn’t get caught.  We got away with it.’

‘There’s only so many times people can get away with it. You’re asking too much this time,’ John said.  ‘It’s just too risky.’

‘We get a good pay out,’ he said.  ‘Don’t tell me you aint interested in that…’

The dialogue, while simple, sets up the scene as it plays out, but it also imparts information to the reader that Dan is attempting a bank robbery further into the story, and there is a hint it or may not go to plan.

Action scenes, if well written, can help transport the reader right into the heart of the story.  They can increase or decrease the pace as necessary and like dialogue scenes; they can move the story forward.

Example:

John pushed harder against the accelerator; the noise of the engine purged the strained atmosphere inside the car, but all he could hear were the sirens screaming in his conscience, and growing closer.  He pulled hard on the steering wheel, hit the kerb as the car veered left, then he quickly changed gears, but he didn’t see the car to left pull out of the side road until the screech of metal against metal broke his thoughts…

The pace increases slightly here, as John drives the getaway car, but it also focuses on what he is feeling during the chase, so it also creates immediacy for the reader.

Descriptive or emotional scenes are a visual stimulus for the reader and their importance should not be ignored. They add specific sensory information for the reader – background and foreground information, they add tension and atmosphere where required and they can also alter the pace of the narrative etc.

Example:

John glanced in the rear view mirror, saw perspiration on his brow, thick like honey.  Then he peered ahead and closely watched the doors to the bank.  The engine hummed, waiting, the sound almost soothing and soporific, but it had felt longer than four minutes since Dan went into the bank that John contemplated driving off without him, anything to get out of growing dangerous situation.  Minutes ticked like an echoing clock in John’s frazzled mind…

Description scenes like these help to regulate the pace of the narrative; it slows it down and allows the reader to reflect on the wider story.  It gives them breathing space before the next action scene

In Part 2, we’ll look at using Transitional scenes and Flashback scenes. And then we’ll see how these different types of scenes are put together to form what we call ‘key scenes’.

Next week: Constructing scenes Part 2

7 comments:

  1. Great post! I especially appreciate the examples - some types of learners need to see examples in order to absorb the material. I'm eagerly waiting for Part 2!

    PS - A car hits a "curb", though, not a "kerb"... at least in the US. :)

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    1. Thanks Susan.

      And yes, 'curb' (US) is spelled differently to 'kerb' (UK), because 'curb' has other meanings in UK English, but well spotted. I guess it's rather like your 'tire' and our 'tyre' or your 'zipcode' and our 'postcode'.

      Gotta love the English language!

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