Making a Scene: Part 2

The Elements of a Successful Scene

We all want to write strong, powerful scenes that will stand out in a reader’s mind, and good writers begin with a solid understanding of the elements a successful scene requires. It doesn’t matter if we’re writing a fast-paced action scene or a poignant moment in a love story, all well-written scenes share some common elements.

The first two are essential. Without them, you don’t really have a scene.

  • Conflict
  • Change

Think of these as the foundational building blocks for every scene you write. All else — the dialogue, the setting details, the characters’ movements — is built upon these two fundamentals.

Good scenes are filled with conflict, but keep in mind that conflict doesn’t always mean argument. It means making your characters uncomfortable, thwarting their desires, and creating problem situations for them. A simple way to look at conflict is this:

Conflict means wanting something we don’t have,

or having something we don’t want.

RivalsTwo women wanting the same man is one illustration of conflict.

In other words, your characters either want to get something or get rid of something. This becomes a story goal, and your characters will be striving throughout the story to accomplish it. As the story progresses, many different goals will come into play. Some will be long-range objectives while others will be short-term steps in the overall direction. Goals may be stated directly or they may be implied through characterization. Either way, knowing a character’s goals is a starting point for writing a strong scene.

Why? Because we need conflict, and the surest way to create it is by making it difficult — or impossible — for your character to achieve what he or she wants and needs.

As a scene begins, we show what the “point-of-view” character wants. In the middle parts of a scene, we bring in the opposition. We upset the apple cart, throw in unexpected changes, and thereby create conflicts for the character. At the end of the scene, our character must deal with these changes by taking specific actions or making new decisions.

Conflict creates change. Change then leads to a new conflict. This is how plots are driven.

What all this means is that as you sit down to write the next scene in a story, you’ll want to consider the conflicts and changes your character will face.

  • What does my character want here?
  • What changes occur to thwart the character?
  • How will the character deal with it?

Keeping those basic principles of conflict and change uppermost in your mind as you write will help you develop riveting scenes that hold the reader’s attention.

But change and conflict are only the beginning. There’s a lot more to include in a good scene, and the key to all of it comes from your point of view character and what he or she wants. A point of view character, of course, is the central character in the scene. We’re showing the scene through that character’s eyes which is why we refer to it as “point of view” — or POV for short.

We’re also revealing the scene through the character’s other senses as well. Everything the reader experiences in the scene — including thoughts and feelings — emanates from this central POV character. We are putting the reader inside the character’s head. That’s a powerful place to be as a reader, and this is what makes scenes come alive. The reader is no longer detached from what’s happening but is living through the story as if it were real.

A little checklist of essential scene elements, therefore, looks like this:

  1. Central POV character
  2. A specific goal — direct or implied — for the POV character to accomplish
  3. A source of conflict that thwarts the goal and introduces change
  4. A new decision or a plan of action in response to the change

That’s the general outline for what should take place in a scene. Let’s look at how these ideas work.

Suppose our POV character is a young man named Daniel. His long-range goal is to win the heart of a woman he loves, but in order to impress her, he needs to make more money. If he could get a promotion at the office, he’ll solve his problem. As we begin a scene in our story, we see Daniel talking to his boss.

We have our POV character — Daniel — and we know his specific goal — ask for, and hopefully get — a promotion. Aha! Did you catch that word? Daniel wants to get something. He wants something he doesn’t have, you see.

Now, we throw in a change. We upset all of Daniel’s plans with a bit of conflict. It’s not enough for his boss to turn down his request. Let’s create a bigger problem. The boss might say, “Well, actually, sales have been off. I’m forced to cut back on staff, Daniel, and I’m really sorry, but I’ve got to let you go.”

Wham! Bam! Daniel’s been thrown for a loop, and he’s got bigger problems to deal with now. How will he handle this? Maybe he’ll take action and punch his boss in the face…uh, no? Well, depending on Daniel’s personality, that might be exactly what he’d do. Or maybe he’ll quickly decide that it’s time for him to start a business of his own. Either way, the story will move forward, and the next scene might show Daniel in jail on assault and battery charges or it might show him turning his garage into a workshop for that new business he’s starting.

  1. POV character
  2. A specific goal
  3. A change that creates conflict
  4. A decision or plan of action

See how those elements work together to keep a story moving forward? If you always keep these principles in mind, your scenes will develop naturally. Your characters will become real as readers experience events along with them and share their thoughts and feelings.

But our scene is only beginning. We have a structure for it, and next, we’ll be setting the stage.

COMING SOON: Lights, Action, Camera

 

 

 

Are You a Cheater?

In most games, the idea of cheating sparks controversy, but as we all know, The Sims franchise isn’t like other games. You don’t play to win — well, except for all those new achievements EA has added into the game. Or maybe you’re an in-game collector, sending your sims off to explore their worlds and find every plant, fish, element, and special holiday egg. I suppose those might count as a competition, but even then,  you’re not playing for a final win-loss outcome. There is no final outcome. The game only ends when (a) you grow tired of it, or (b) the next version hits the market.

That said, I once looked askance at cheaters. Why bother to play the game at all if you’re going to rosebud, kaching, or motherlode your way to sim success? What’s the fun in cheating a sim’s skills to the max? Isn’t it just a little wrong to use cheats to keep all those need bars glowing in green?

Yes, I once thought that way.

My tune began to change a bit when I looked at some of the big, beautiful mansions that came with the original game. My sim families would never be able to afford to live in such luxury, but wouldn’t it be fun? Actually, I just wanted to see what one of those homes looked like from the inside. I also had my “sim-self” in that first game, remember, and I decided to make all my dreams of wealth come true. I created a handsome fellow to fall in love with, and as the lyrics say in Matchmaker, Matchmaker, for papa, I made him a scholar — in my mind, at least — and for mama, I made him rich as a king. I’d already made him as handsome as anything, just for me.  We met, we married, and we moved into a gorgeous mansion — courtesy of that handy little money cheat.

Oh, but I wasn’t cheating! Not at all. I was simply exercising my creativity, building a storyline, and bringing a rich character into the game. After all, we may all be created equal, but we don’t stay that way.

At the time, the money cheat was the only one I knew. I’d heard that other cheats existed, but most of them sounded so complicated I was hesitant to try them. There were also concerns about boolprop — how it could ruin a game — so I figured I was better off not knowing how to use it.

I never did consider myself a cheater in the original game, despite my marriage to a wealthy young man. I did, however, learn a lot of helpful tricks that made certain game elements much easier. This came as I first discovered “custom content”.

Oh, my! Did you know you could download a picture, hang it on the wall, and everyone in the neighborhood would become a family friend? Oh, my goodness! There’s a little candy bowl that makes every party fun! What’s that? That silver tea service immediately turns all the household’s bars bright green?

One by one, I downloaded little fixes like this. Again, I didn’t see it as cheating. It was simply part of the storytelling process, ways to make my sims behave more as I wanted them to under various circumstances. The game, for me, has always been about telling stories. I needed the ability to create characters and situations that were appropriate for my storylines.

I still made my sims work for things — like skills. Of course, again, that was partly because using cheats to increase skill levels still seemed a bit too complicated for me. And despite my use of the money cheat and a bit of helpful custom content, I didn’t see myself as a cheater.

With Sims 2 — my favorite of the series — I went wild with custom content and mods that helped me better “manage” the game. I was becoming more and more comfortable with using cheat codes — mostly simple ones, such as “aging on” and “aging off”. I used money cheats sparingly — and always as part of a storyline, such as when Darla Scully’s aunt died and left her a lot of money.

There were a lot of suspicions going around about the old woman’s death. Had Darla been responsible? Questions arose, but in the end Darla was vindicated. She was also shunned by everyone in the neighborhood, and while quite rich, she lived a very unhappy life. Enough about Darla.

All the while, I still scoffed at forum members who routinely “cheated” in the game. It was all right when I did it, because I was doing it for a reason. Other players were simply cheating to make things easier. That’s how my thinking went.

Little by little, of course, I realized that I often did the same thing. Using cheat codes not only made the game easier, but also more enjoyable. Those cheat codes, I realized, were tools designed to give players more control over in-game events and characters.

Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s one of the greatest features of the game.

Craig in the Kitchen
I didn’t have to cheat to make Craig Dennison a master chef, but I did use cheats to alter his personality — not once, but twice.

For me, simming is about creating stories around the lives of my families. I need the ability to manipulate their reality from time to time. I need ways to quickly make adjustments to sims, their personalities, and their world.

People in real life sometimes change and in fiction, change is a key element. I’m grateful we have cheat codes to help me bring about real changes.

My sim, Craig Dennison, has gone through a lot of changes, for instance. He began with the non-committal trait, and went through a miserable marriage and divorce. Later, after meeting Rhiannon Gould, he changed. He was ready to settle down and I got rid of that non-committal trait, replacing it with one more suited for the new Craig.

Later still, as he aged — and as problems and frustrations occurred in his life — he underwent another change. I changed his good trait to mean, and the results weren’t pretty. He’s now divorced from Rhiannon, but he might get back together with his first wife. Maybe it’s time for Craig to undergo another personality change.

Is that cheating? No, not in my book. It’s storytelling. It’s creative manipulation of game elements.

I no longer frown when other players talk about cheat codes or mods. I’ve come to see that there are valid reasons to use them. It’s not cheating. It’s making the game our own, creating our own sim-realities, and telling our own stories.

A handy list of cheat codes can be found here.

Characters: Edgar Evans

Edgar EvansEdgar Evans is one of the most famous people in all of New Simeria. He came to Oasis Springs as a young man with two dreams in his heart. He wanted to find the right woman, get married, and have a family. He also wanted to see outer space.

He went to work at the National Simerian Space Agency and quickly proved that he had what it took to become an astronaut. He was assigned to the training team and before long he was promoted to lead.

While still a training cadet, he met and married Sara Foster. They have been blessed with two sons, Michael — who is following in his father’s footsteps at NSSA — and Jonathan, the gifted  young musician who hopes to take the classical music world by storm.

Edgar went on to complete a full tour of space duty and was then re-assigned to ground crew as a cadet training leader. He has a webpage on the Simerian internet, and many fans and followers. The children in Oasis Springs have also started an “Edgar Evans Fan Club”. He enjoys meeting with them and sharing stories about space. He also visits schools in the area to talk about NSSA and instill a love of science and engineering in young students.

He has a very out-going personality and a playful side, as well, traits that have made him popular with everyone he meets. Yes, he likes to play little pranks, and he can be a goofball. Life is short. Live large and have fun. That’s his philosophy.

As he’s grown older, he’s also grown wiser. He’s a bit more serious now, more focused on the truly important things in life — like his home, his wife, and his family. Nothing matters more to him now. He and Sara are looking forward to welcoming many grandchildren to their world.

Aspiration: Chief of Mischief

Traits: Creative, Goofball, Outgoing

Edgar Evans — as a young man — is available for download from the Gallery.

 

 

Happy Easter

As we celebrate the holiday today, let’s look back at one of the game’s most beloved creatures. Yes, it’s the Social Bunny from Sims 2. I adored the big bunny, so reminiscent of Harvey, the famous pooka from the 1950s film with Jimmy Stewart.

Social Bunny

Yes, even with my penchant for realism in my game, I loved the social bunny. I looked upon him as an “imaginary friend” for my lonely sims, and everyone needs an imaginary friend, don’t you think?

Apparently I’m not the only one who’s got fond memories of the big bunny. A quick look at YouTube brought up this great clip. I hope viewing it puts a smile on your face and brings back as many memories for you as it did for me.

 

What’s Your Favorite Fantasy?

No, no… I’m not talking about those fantasies. I’m talking about The Sims and all the fantastic creatures that have been part of the game throughout the years. Even though my playing experience with “other wordly creatures” has been limited, I do enjoy hearing stories from other players.

I’ve shared my first “alien encounter” — the time my grandfather got abducted — but I haven’t mentioned the other times I’ve tried playing with weird things in the game. Those werewolves and vampires have always intrigued me, but my realistic playing still soon rebels if I try to incorporate fantastic elements into my simming.

In Sims 2, I did have a few “knowledge” sims who wanted to see ghosts, and that fit rather well into the family’s storyline. Mr. Langley was a retired professor. His wife was also quite brilliant, as were their two sons. It was after Professor Langley retired that he became interested in the supernatural. His wife scoffed at him — skeptic that she was — but every evening he and his youngest son would sit out in the yard close to a wooded area complete with gravestone. It was entertaining for a while, but after they saw the ghost and she became a bit of a nuisance, I’d had enough. Fortunately, so had Mrs. Langley. She insisted her husband tear out that wooded area, get rid of the old grave he’d found there, and plant a lovely garden.

Yes, dear.

Next I tried playing aliens. This was also in Sims 2, and I allowed myself to expand my storylines into more “sci-fi” themes. I created an alien couple, and as I played them, I felt a strange sense of alienation. Seriously. Whenever they went out, everyone seemed to ignore them. It was a weird feeling. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not personally prejudiced against aliens of any sort, but the other sims in my game sure were.

The alien scenario continued for quite some time, and the tensions between human sims and the aliens — who had now expanded in my game — grew steadily. Soon there were rumors of war. Well, why not go with it? As a tabletop war-gamer, I was prepared to orchestrate a few battles, and it did become quite dramatic. War stories, you know. But when one of my favorite sims — the adopted son of one of the nation’s leaders — was killed in battle, I couldn’t handle it. This couldn’t happen in my game. I broke all my rules and resurrected him. He wasn’t killed as was first reported. He was missing in action. Later, he was found, and I returned him home to his wife and child. Alas, he’d fallen in love with one of the female fighters he’d been with. His marriage was over, his reputation as a hero ruined, and I quickly “signed a treaty” to end the war and banished all aliens to a planet of their own, never to be played again.

I tried vampires. They’re so much trouble! I really don’t understand the fun of playing a vampire. Same with werewolves. I tried it; I didn’t like it.

Now, plant sims were cute. I’ll give you that. I had fun with little plant sims — until they grew up. Nope. Not fun. Way too unrealistic for my playing taste. So, no more plant sims for me.

Witches, yes, I can live with. I believe in natural magic, and I feel there are awesome powers surrounding us. I had several covens in Sims 2, one of which was headed by Diana Warner — who became one of the most infamous sims in my game. I’ll be sharing stories of Diana from time to time.

MimsyNow, with Sims 4, I’m staying away from fantasy. Yes, an occasional ghost appears, but so far they’ve only been seen by one elderly gentleman who’s grown quite senile and a group of “goofballs” in therapy. Obviously these ghosts aren’t real, but only figments of the imagination.

So, what about your game? Are your ghosts real? Do you tell fantastic stories with aliens from Sixam? What supernatural creatures do you want to see in the game?

“Will You Marry Me?”

One thing about Jonathan Evans…it might take him a while to make a decision but once he makes up his mind, he takes action right away. He’s had his fun and he’s ready now to make that lifelong commitment.

It’s Kat, of course. Was there ever any doubt? She captivated him from the moment they first met. It just took a little while for him to come to his senses. He knows she’s the one for him.

Kat ProposalSo, he proposed, she accepted, and the happy couple are looking forward to their wedding day. Had it been up to Jonathan, a quick trip to a justice of the peace would have been just fine. But Kat wants a big wedding.

Heavens, they’re not even married yet and already he’s having to adjust to doing things her way. Well, whatever makes her happy, right?

Of course, having a big wedding will make his mother and father very happy, too. They’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.

Now, the chapel is reserved, invitations have been sent, and the future is about to begin.

Big Blue DividerWatch for wedding pictures!

Big Blue Divider

 

 

 

 

 

Hop to It, Foodies!

One of the most delicious recipes our sims have available is carrot cake cupcakes. With the Easter holiday coming up in a few days, what better time to make this delicious treat?

Carrot-Cake-Cupcakes.words_

I found this version at HoosierHomemade.com which uses Truvia Baking blend to keep the calories down. So, hop to it, foodies. Bake up these yummy cupcakes, and have a sweet Easter.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves: 30 cupcakes
Ingredients
  • 2¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup Truvia Baking Blend
  • 1½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • ½ cup buttermilk (See Note below)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups finely shredded carrots
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts
  • ¾ cup raisins

No buttermilk? No problem. Add 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to 1/2 cup of milk. Let set for five minutes.

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine flour, Truvia Baking Blend, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Whisk ingredients together. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, then mix in oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and carrots. Add carrot mixture to flour mixture. Stir to combine. Fold in walnuts and raisins.

Pour batter into lined cupcake pan and bake for about 12-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow cupcakes to cool completely before icing.

Use traditional cream cheese frosting or try this quick alternative: Combine 1 8-ounce tub of Cool Whip with 1 8-ounce container of Marshmallow Fluff.

For Easter fun, add Reese’s Pieces in the shape of a carrot. The carrot top is made by flattening a green gumdrop and cutting off small pieces with a sharp knife or kitchen scissors.

Testing the Limits of Reality

One of the questions that makes the rounds frequently at the Sims 4 Forum involves realism.  Players differ in the amount of realism they like in their games. For some, realism is almost a “dirty word”, while others — like me — do all we can to eliminate the “un-realistic” supernatural elements from our sims’ lives.

As a new player back in 2000, I was unconnected to the online world and blissfully unaware of any supernatural elements in The Sims…until the day my grandfather got abducted by aliens.  How did that just happen? That experience sent me to the internet searching for explanations and answers, and I’ve been actively involved in the simming community ever since.

Now, back with the original game, by the way, I did know that there were ghosts, but they sort of floated around the edges of my consciousness. I didn’t want ghosts in my game so I mostly ignored them. I found ways to avoid them and never gave them much thought.

As new supernatural aspects have been added to each game, I’ve bought the expansion packs, plucked out the more realistic elements to use and have devised “worst case” scenarios to get me through any unwanted encounters with fantastic creatures. With vampires in Sims 2, for instance, I told myself that if one of my sims got bitten, I’d write it into the storyline as a “strange, mysterious disease”. I learned, though, that I could keep my sims away from vampires — they were easily recognizable — and I no longer had to worry about them contracting some exotic illness.

Realistic players like me are often scoffed at by the supernatural fans.

For heaven’s sake! The game’s got ghosts, aliens, werewolves, vampires, witches, and plant sims, and you want to play with normal people?

I heard that a lot back in the days of Sims 2. I was missing out on so much fun by playing a dull, boring game. Realism sucked in the minds of a lot of players. Supernatural is where it’s at for them.

Another comment I’ve heard often through the years is this:

What do you mean, realism? There’s nothing realistic about The Sims. Mops appear and disappear, babies suddenly turn into children, and a black-garbed figure with a scythe comes strolling through the neighborhood. What’s realistic about that?

Excellent point. The game does have a lot of highly-unrealistic happenings. I counter this argument with simple logic. I’m not creating reality when I play; I’m only creating an illusion of reality. It works for me.

For those of us on the realism side of the fence, there are questions about how much reality the game should include. Some players find reality a bit boring, in fact. Years ago when “doing laundry” was first discussed as a possible addition, the idea brought out a lot of “real life” frustrations.

"Let's Do Laundry" by Mightyfaithgirl
“Let’s Do Laundry” for Sims 3 by Mightyfaithgirl is available at TSR. Click the picture to visit the site.

 

I hate doing laundry. I play my game for fun and doing laundry isn’t fun.

For many, of course, playing The Sims — in any of its multiple versions — is an escape from reality. Even without fantastical creatures — aliens, vampires, and the like — some players still prefer their virtual realities to be somewhat limited. No laundry. No disabilities. No routine visits to eye doctors, dentists, or pediatricians.

We get enough of those things in real life. We don’t need them in our games.

That’s a popular opinion, and I definitely agree that reality does have its limits when it comes to gaming. Each of us has to decide where we want to draw the lines. For me, it means excluding the purely fantastic — aliens and any other supernatural creatures — and ignoring unrealistic elements in my game play. I don’t make aliens, nor do I take actions that might lead to abductions.

Even so, I do still have a few “out-of-this-world” game elements. Two households have rocket ships sitting in their back yards. One also has a cow plant. I simply pretend and use my imagination to make these things fit into my version of reality. The rocket ships, I pretend, are not really in the backyard. They’re at NSSA — The National Simerian Space Agency — where those sims work. The cow plant? It’s a mutation that occurred when NSSA conducted agricultural experiments in space. As for all those weird events that “happen” when my astronauts go into space…well, I just ignore those and hope everyone returns home safely.

On the other hand, I have added a lot of realism that EA can’t include in the game. I have “teen sluts” who occasionally get pregnant. I have sexual predators. I have prostitutes, fortune tellers, and serial killers. I don’t use mods to create these scenarios; I use my imagination. It works.

The Sims is a unique gaming experience, and each of us can choose how we play. That includes choosing the degree of realism we want in our game.

How much REALISM is in YOUR game?

 

 

Making a Scene: Part 1

Stories are best told through scenes…but, exactly what is a scene? Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of different definitions. Because it can become so confusing, I’m going to start today by sharing my thoughts on what a scene involves.

First, though, let’s briefly look at that much-talked-about concept of “scene and sequel”.  Many creative writing teachers would have you believe that fiction is merely a process of putting scenes together with sequels in between. The usual explanation is that scenes are where things happen in a story, and sequels are those moments when things aren’t happening — exactly. Sequels are times when characters reflect on what’s happened, consider choices, and make decisions before moving on to the next big scene.

Well, yes. And, no.  In some respects, it is as simple as “scene and sequel”, yet in others, it’s a lot more complicated. Successful writers understand that scene and sequel are inextricably linked. They’re two sides of the same storytelling coin. We need both, and in good fiction it’s as impossible to separate them as it would be to see both sides of a coin at once.  When you learn to write strong, purposeful scenes, your sequels will naturally fall into place.

Good stories can hold readers and listeners spellbound.
Good stories can hold readers and listeners spellbound.

So, today’s let’s focus on making a scene.

Before we talk about the important elements of a scene — things like setting, purpose, and sensory details — we need to look first at the many different types of scenes writers can use in telling stories. Not all scenes are created equal, you see, and the best writers know how to use scene variety to add interest to a story.

There are, of course, BIG scenes and LITTLE scenes — but, wait! We still haven’t defined what a scene actually is. Here’s my working definition of a scene:

A scene is a point in fiction where conflict occurs and the life of a character changes as a result. Please note that there are two very important parts.

  1. Conflict
  2. Change

If there’s no conflict taking place, there’s no need for a scene. If no change occurs, there’s no need for a scene.

You’ve probably heard it said that scenes should “advance the plot” or “move the story forward”. True, and the way it happens is by ensuring that change occurs in every scene you write. It’s not always a big change. Sometimes it’s very small, such as a character overhearing a bit of information. Whatever it is, though, it’s significant for the character. The changes drive the story ahead in a cause-and-effect manner.

But, back to scenes. Big scenes pit two or more characters against each other in a situation of major conflict. A little scene deals with smaller — but still significant — conflicts and changes.  The general rule of thumb is that the bigger the conflict, the bigger the scene. That makes sense, don’t you think?

Still, we need to look at the different types of scenes you can use in telling stories. Whether they’re big scenes,  or little ones, the scenes you write will serve different purposes. Oh, but wait! We haven’t talked about another important scene-writing factor: internal versus external conflict.

No doubt by now, you’re seeing how complex and complicated the whole scene-writing process can be. But the good news is that once you’ve got a good grasp of the basic principles, writing the scenes of a story can be a fairly simple, straight-forward process.

External scenes involve external conflict. In other words, when a character encounters conflict from outside of himself or herself, that conflict is external. If the problems and conflicts occur from within himself or herself, the conflict is internal. Sometimes we solve problems by changing something in the world around us; other times, we seek solutions by changing ourselves.

Now, once more, back to scenes. Big scenes, little scenes, external scenes, internal scenes…all of these can vary depending on what conflict is involved and what changes occur.

Action Scenes

Action scenes are ones that involve physical actions. Makes sense, right? If your main character gets into a fight with a rival, you’ll want to show the blow-by-blow action and let the reader experience that punch to the gut. Don’t get me wrong here. Not all action scenes involve fights. Action scenes could be used for a firefighter battling a blaze, a sports figure competing in a game, or any event where a character uses physical actions to deal with a problem.

TIP: When writing action scenes, start in media res. That’s a Latin term meaning “in the middle”. Start with the action to catch a reader’s attention, then work in pertinent details to show other scene elements.

Dialogue Scenes

These are “talkie” scenes. Again, it makes sense, right? Now, just because your characters are sitting around talking, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a scene. Your characters must be experiencing a conflict — which doesn’t mean arguing — and the conversation must lead to a change in the character’s life.

One of the biggest mistakes writers make is with dialogue scenes. Some writers want to include every bit of “dinner table talk” — which does nothing to advance the story. All it does is bore the reader. Dialogue must matter.

The other huge mistake writers make with dialogue scenes is in thinking that “conflict” means argument. Sure, an argument is a sign of conflict, but there are others forms, too. Conflict really means wanting something you don’t have, or having something you don’t want. If your character wants to go out on a date with that someone special but then a sick friend calls and needs help, that’s a conflict. It’s not likely to erupt into an argument, however.

TIP: Keep your dialogue meaningful and explore subtle conflicts. Remember, too, to show your characters as they’re speaking. What are their facial expressions? What is their body language saying? How do your characters talk? Do they interrupt one another? Do they listen intently?

Dramatic Scenes

These scenes can be a mix of action and dialogue, but whatever they are, they’re crucial to the storyline. These are those “oh, my gosh!” moments of a story, moments when lives are irrevocably changed, moments that become unforgettable in a reader’s mind. They often mark significant “turning points” in a story.

TIP: Use dramatic scenes to their full power, but be careful not to over-do it and slip into the realm of the melodramatic. Always be sure your characters’ actions are well-motivated and that their response to any situation is appropriate. Don’t exaggerate merely for the sake of trying to make a scene more dramatic. Drama comes from the conflicts involved, not from over-the-top actions of the characters.

Flashback Scenes

Using flashback in a story can be tricky, and I won’t say much about it here. It’s generally handled by working it in to a real-time scene as a brief memory or fleeting thought about the past. If you choose to actually go back in time and dramatize a scene from the past, be sure you clearly indicate where the flashback begins and where it ends.

TIP: Don’t write a complete flashback scene unless the events involved represented important conflicts and significant changes in your character’s life.

Love Scenes

If you’re writing a love story, you’ll be writing love scenes, and they can range from innocent hand-holding to explosive sexual scenes. Where’s the conflict? It’s generally subtle and often involves internal questions. Your young fellow might be mentally agonizing over whether or not he should kiss the girl he’s with, or maybe your young lady is worried that she’s not worldly enough to please a man. Even while you’re focused on the romance happening, don’t neglect the two essential elements of a good scene: conflict and change.

TIP: Write love scenes that you’re comfortable with. If you blush at the sight of lovers kissing on the street corner, don’t jump in and try to write erotic scenes. On the other hand, if writing hot, hotter, and hottest comes naturally to you, don’t think you can “tone it down” and make it convincing. When it comes to love and sex in fiction, write at your own “heat” level.

Narrative or Summary Scenes

I’m adding these in together and including them here even though these aren’t full-fledged scenes. Sometimes over the course of a story, we have changes occurring that aren’t riddled with conflict. Seasons change, weeks pass, and although nothing major has happened to the characters, we need to let readers know that certain things are now different. A short narrative or a little vignette that introduces the changes and sets the stage going forward can be useful.

TIP: Keep narrative and summary to a minimum. Use these only when necessary to fill in information the reader must know.

Big Blue DividerSo, there you have a quick look at some of the different scene types used in good fiction. As you’re writing, keep in mind what sort of scene will work best for your purpose, and when you’re watching films, make note of how different scenes are handled.

Always look for those two essential elements: conflict and change. Learning to recognize these — even in their subtlest forms — will help you weave these elements skillfully into your own stories.

COMING SOON: The Essential Elements of Successful Scenes