Constructing Scenes - Part 2
Continuing our look at how to construct key scenes, we’ll take a look at Transitional scenes and Flashback scenes, which are quite common in fiction and very useful elements for the writer.
Writers use transitional scenes to cross a specific time span, i.e. hours, days, months or even years, without the need to describe everything in detail. Usually they are nothing more than a few sentences, but they tell the reader that time has passed, without the writer having to bore the reader by describing the details of the time span with long-winded passages.
Four weeks later, John drove the car to the high street and parked up near the bank, just as Dan had instructed. He waited.
It says concisely what the reader needs to know – four weeks have passed since Dan’s conversation with John (in Part 1) and the narrative has moved forward to the day of the robbery. Two sentences cover what might have taken the writer a page or two pages to describe.
Well written transitional scenes should be seamless and unobtrusive so that the reader will barely notice. They are designed to move forward (or backward) without disrupting the flow of narrative.
Flashback scenes, as opposed to transitional scenes, are self-explanatory. They jump back to a moment in the character’s past in order for the writer to explain things that are happening in the present.
They form an integral part of any novel, and although not a compulsory requirement, they are desired if the writer needs to explain specific incidents that happened to the main character in the past that may affect their behaviour as the story unfolds in the present.
Flashbacks also help propel the story forward, despite the paradox of leaping backward.
He remembered it clearly, the memory still fresh like an open wound. The original feelings of euphoria and arrogance had quickly turned to angst the moment the far off sound of sirens broke through the night. Like the others, he’d thought he’d got away with it. They had split the money and gone their separate ways, thinking that would fool the police, but it hadn’t, and panic set in at the thought of being caught…
The scene slips unobtrusively into the past, and uses pluperfect tense to show the reader that it happened in the past, rather than the present. This is achieved by using ‘had’ in the narrative.
Note that I’ve not included Flashforwards, simply because they fulfil the same function as flashbacks, however, unless writing sci-fi/fantasy, or a time travel themed story, flashforwards do not have a place in a story, since neither the writer, nor the characters, can predict the future.
Now, if we stitch some of the example scenes shown in Part 1 together with these examples in Part 2, we should have something that contains the majority of those scene elements to make an entire scene.
‘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…’(Conversational)
He remembered it clearly, the memory still fresh like an open wound. The original feelings of euphoria and arrogance had quickly turned to angst the moment the far off sound of sirens broke through the night. Like the others, he’d thought he’d got away with it. They had split the money and gone their separate ways, thinking that would fool the police, but it hadn’t, and panic set in at the thought of being caught… (Flashback)
Four weeks later, John drove the car to the high street and parked up near the bank, just as Dan had instructed. He waited. (Transitional)
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… (Descriptive)
From these different types of scenes it’s easy to see how they work together to create a cohesive whole scene, what we usually term a ‘key’ scene in the story.
Not all of the elemental scenes have been used, of course, but this example makes use of conversational, flashback, transitional and descriptive scenes, and scenes work better when there are more of them. Writers have many scene elements at their disposal, so they can use any number of combined scenes within the story, and of course, it’s up to the story to dictate where those scenes need to be.
Next week: Breathing Life into Description