Scenes: Back to Basics

Last Friday, I saw the movie Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel (sort of) to Alien. It’s not great. In fact, it’s hugely disappointing. Bad plot, lame characters and unintelligent action/reaction.

Events happen that don’t have anything to do with events prior to them nor do they influence events following them. Too frequently, I was left wondering, “What was the point of that scene?” It reminded me, among other things, how important a good scene is and how necessary it is for driving the action forward.

In The Scene Book: A Primer to the Fiction Writer, Sandra Scofield writes: “This is what is common to all stories in all genres and media: Each part of the story is there for a purpose that serves the story as a whole.”

Each part of the story is there for a purpose that serves the story as a whole.

I love this book and when I picked it up again after a long hiatus of not writing, I had an “ah-ha” moment that impelled me to get back on the writing bus. Here is more from her book:

According to Scofield, there are four basic scene elements:

Every scene has event and emotion. Characters do things and feel things. They act and react.

Every scene has a function. It may introduce new plot elements. It may reveal something about the character. It may set up a situation.

Every scene has a structure. Just like every story has a beginning, middle and end, so too do scenes. Scofield writes, “An alternative way to think of the scene structure is this: There is a situation at the beginning, a line of action, and then there is a new situation at the end.”

Every scene has a pulse. This has to do with the energy that drives the scene. It’s the “vibrancy in the story” that makes the scene live on the page and matter. Scofield gives some examples: a knot that unravels, a key turning, a bud that blooms, a moment frozen then shattered.

At a writer’s conference I went to a couple of weeks ago, Delia Ephron told the group this: Put the most interesting sentence first in your scene and end the scene with something to remember.

I think it’s important when writing to stop and review the basics. It’s easy to get lost in the words and sentences and forget what the point of it all is.

Photo: mikecontiphotos / Flickr Creative Commons

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