Sunday, March 25, 2012

Let's Make A Scene



Let’s Make a Scene
I know what you’re thinking, but trust me I’m not going to throw a fit in the middle of the grocery store because they don’t carry my favorite brand of yogurt, lol.  Not that I would do that anyway, I swear.  No, instead I’d like to talk to you about writing a scene and what goes into it.  I was years into my writing before I learned there was a method to writing a proper scene.  A beginning, middle, and end.  And here I was simply writing until the scene got too long and then I’d start a new one.  Not a good way to write.

Well, my favorite mentor, Dwight V. Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer, maps out scene structure in this simple a-b-c formula and it works:
a.      Goal.
b.       Conflict.
c.       Disaster.

Let’s think about what a scene is.   Swain says it is a ‘unit of conflict, of struggle, lived through by character and reader.  A blow-by-blow account of somebody’s time-unified effort to attain an immediate goal despite face-to-face opposition’.  

What does a scene do?  It moves your story forward.  According to Swain it ‘pits your focal character against opposition’.  And doesn’t that make us, the reader’s, wonder if the hero/heroine will win and want to read on?  

But, what part of the a-b-c above makes us want to read on and care so much about the scene?  The conflict!  My favorite, favorite part of writing!  Without conflict you don’t have story.  Without story you have no scene.  Without scene you have no story.  See how that works?  

So, to begin a scene, your point-of-view character must have a goal.  It can be as simple as wanting to go home and take a shower, but they must want something.

Second, there must be conflict.  Why can’t they have that shower?  When they get home is there a surprise birthday party?  A friend in need of a shoulder to cry on?  A busted pipe and no water?  Flat tire?  Must be something to prevent that shower.  Make is as personal as you can to tie into the internal conflict.

Thirdly, there must be a disaster that leaves the reader hanging and wanting more.  You want the reader to stay up until three in the morning reading your book because they can’t put it down.  Disaster=hook.  A new question, a new dilemma, new information, urgency.  Not only can’t your character take that shower because of a house full of people there for a surprise party, her ex-husband is there and she never told him she was pregnant.  Oh, boy!  Big hook.  Big problem.  Disaster.  

I hope this helps make sense of Swain’s a-b-c method of building a scene.  If you don’t have a copy of his book I would definitely consider ordering it.  It’s a must have for writers. 
Good luck building your scenes and happy writing!

Jennifer Kamptner
w/a Jennifer Lowery
Facebook: Jennifer Lowery~Author
Twitter@JLoweryauthor    

22 comments:

Christine Warner said...

Great post Jennifer! Even though I'm a huge fan of Debra Dixon's GMC book, I might have to read through Swain's book and see if I can add to what she's taught me. Thanks :)

Jennifer Lowery (Kamptner) said...

Oh, I have Debra's book too, Christine! Even got to meet her and take a GMC seminar—awesome! Swain covers all aspects of writing and is an invaluable tool. It'll tie in :)
Thanks for stopping by!

Casea Major said...

Debra Dixon rocks! I met her last weekend and she had so many good things to share.

Nice post, Jennifer. I also like this guy's scene/sequel model.http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php

Jennifer Lowery (Kamptner) said...

I'll have to give the link a try, Casea! Thanks for sharing!

Brenda said...

Jennifer, this is a fantastic post that broke down what is needed to write a scene.

Sometimes I forget these three ingredients.

Sheri Fredricks said...

Great reminders and timely for me too.

Toni Kelly said...

Love this breakdown as it's so simple. Will try this. Thanks for sharing!

Jennifer Lowery (Kamptner) said...

Me too, Brenda! Thank you!

Jennifer Lowery (Kamptner) said...

Thanks, Sheri! Glad I could help!

Jennifer Lowery (Kamptner) said...

You're welcome, Toni!

Maggie O'Malley said...

Great post.

Anya Millar said...

Great post and information. Thanks for sharing ;)

Jennifer Lowery (Kamptner) said...

Thanks, Maggie!

Lia Davis said...

Great Post! Very good information to have.

Jennifer Lowery (Kamptner) said...

Thanks, Anya!

D'Ann said...

Good job! You're one of the best when it comes to GMC, and you've made me better, too.

Sara Walter Ellwood / Cera duBois said...

Great tips on GMC...

Jennifer Lowery (Kamptner) said...

Thanks, D'Ann! I studied GMC for a long time and tried really hard to nail it because I knew I was terrible at writing characters :)

Jennifer Lowery (Kamptner) said...

Thanks, Sara!

Cait O'Sullivan said...

Fab to learn something useful Jennifer, thanks! Now to go and put it all to practise...:-)

Jennifer Lowery (Kamptner) said...

Thanks, Cait! Happy to try and help!

Melissa Limoges said...

Awesome post, Jennifer!