Schemes and Scenes – Part Two
This is the second article in an occasional series on scene development. Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, Chapter Two, focuses on characterization and exposition, with two exercises. Read the first article.
How would you develop the following character through a series of scenes? Keep in mind that the scenes don’t have to be consecutive and that some of the material need not be included at all.
SITUATION: Maggie had reached the cusp of her childhood, that gray area between girl and woman when she could be neither, or both almost at will. There had not been (and probably would not be a lonelier time in her life. She could not longer associate with children, whose interests now bored her But she wasn’t comfortable with adults, for she still carried the energy of a child and couldn’t slow herself down to the adult’s pace. And so she found herself trapped between the banal and the dull, trying to shape her life with only the help of her contemporaries, who were as adrift as she was. Given all this, was it any wonder she sometimes seemed, well, exasperated (and exasperating) to her parents?
Scene 1 – Maggie’s birthday party
Before guests arrive, Maggie is with her parents. Her father becomes sentimental, and re-tells the story of her birth. They banter about incidents in her life. Maggie is at once happy and embarrassed to hear these tales retold. Her mother gives Maggie a half of a Mother – Daughter bracelet set. Maggie discovers mixed feelings, happy enough to get the bracelet, but uncertain whether she really wants to be so closely associated with her mother. She wonders what her friends will think.
Later, she plays games with her younger cousins. Somehow, the games are not as fun as they were, and she feels a little sad. The younger ones discover her bracelet and are so persistent about wanting to see it and talk about it, that they drive her from the room. She doesn’t feel like she fits in anymore.
Scene 2 – Overnight With Older Cousins
Maggie plays hearts with her older cousin, Melanie, and her aunt and uncle. Maggie becomes hyper. She is loud, laughing and screaming at every play. She keeps a running commentary going. Her cousin displays great boredom, and makes comments about Maggie’s immaturity. Maggie keeps begging to play more and more games The Aunt and Uncle chastise Melanie, telling her to let Maggie stay a child as long as she can, that there is no reason to make her grow up any faster than she needs to. They also make a lot of the bracelet.
Alone in the bed-room with her cousin, Maggie tries to pay attention to an endless series of girls and two boys. They are talking about an upcoming party, next week. One of Melanie’s friends is alone for the weekend. Melanie wants to be with Brandon. Maggie wonders where the toy horses are they used to play with. Melanie tells her she needs to take her meds, that she had eaten too much sugar tonight. And, she informs her, the bracelet is stupid.
Scene 3 – Sleep Over With Friends
Maggie sleeps over at Emily’s house with Brianna and Hailey. They talk about changes to their bodies; they talk about boys, and what they hear what other girls are doing. Maggie tells them about Melanie and Brandon. The girls talk about piercings and tattoos. They wonder if they could have their own party. Hailey thinks she could sneak some alcohol out of her father’s liquor cabinet. Nobody seems to understand them. Their parents are clueless. Kids are boring. They like the bracelet.
Now try the same thing with a passage of exposition.
The county had changed over the years. It had all started with the George Washington Bridge, which finally put the west side of the Hudson within commuting distance of New York City without the bother of trains and ferries. Then had come the Tappan Zee Bridge, a second artery running right through the heart of the country. It was only a matter of time before the family farms were turned into developments and the little two-lane roads became four-lane highways.
Fred could remember when Nauet had only one traffic light. Now it had a string of twelve of them on Route 59 alone, mostly in front of the mall. (The Mall!) And Route 59 itself was on its way to becoming a continuous string of malls and shopping centers, all the way from Nyak to Suffern and beyond. It had reached the point where shoppers outnumbered residents three to one on a busy day.
Fred has picked up his sister, Elene, at JFK Air Port. They are in town for their father’s funeral. Fred lives in Indiana. Elene retired two years ago and lives in Florida.
As Fred drives their mother’s minivan, they reminisce about their childhood. Once, they lived on a farm right on the outskirts of Nauet. Their father gave up an accounting job in New York City after he met their mother. He came to live on the family farm. The only way to get to New York City to visit Grampa Ed and Gramma Jan was by train, or by the ferry.
Going into the City got easier when the George Washington Bridge opened up. Instead of an all-day adventure, they could get to the little apartment in Chelsea, in a few hours. And Nauet, where nothing ever changed, slowly transformed. People could now commute to the City in the morning, and return at night. Some of the locals did just that. And new people started to settle in and around Nauet; many did. The schools began to change. Class sizes soared. Finally, the school district went to split shifts. Fred and Elene lost track of old friends, and gained new ones. Fred began to get into fights at school with the new kids.
Change accelerated when the Tappan Zee Bridge opened. Mom and Dad fought about whether to sell the farm or not. Dad finally took a job in the City. They sold the farm and moved into town. As Fred and Ellen drive through the endless traffic lights on Route 59, they can see where they think the farm-house might have stood. The Mall stands there now. Cars jam the four-lane highway, once a quiet two-lane road. People come from everywhere to shop here. Elene wonders if shoppers outnumber residents now.
Elene and Fred grew up. They saw less and less of their father, as he got up earlier and earlier to get to work on time. When he came home, late at night, he was a weary, beaten down man. Their final years in high school were a blur of new friends and new situations. Fred played football, and was a starting lineman. Both Susan and Fred went on to college. After graduating, they moved away. Elene, working for the Department of the Interior in DC, got home more often than Fred did. Fred feels guilty about not coming home more.
As they get to the little house, they talk about what they are going to do with their mother. Should they move her to a home nearby, or should they move her to a place near one of them? They walk up the steps, arm in arm, knowing they can never go home again.