Seeming To Scene
I was in my favorite used book store and found The Scene Book – A Primer For The Fiction Writer by Sandra Scofield. I’m working through her exercises. The second chapter, Event and Meaning, was an eye opener. I will explain more of what I learned at the end.
1. Reading for event – In scenes, identify the occasion (why the characters are together), the event of the scene (the sum of everything that happened), and the emotion built into the scene (what the characters feel).
To answer this question, I went to the library, and pulled several books at random from the shelves.
A. Waiting by Ha Jin
The occasion – Geng Yang and Lin Kong are in an army hospital.
The event – While Lin and Geng Yang convalesce in a hospital, Lin reveals that he has failed in his attempt to divorce his wife to marry Manna, and Geng Yang promises to help him get his divorce.
The emotion – Lin loves Manna and is ashamed he hasn’t been able to divorce his wife, and Manna is overjoyed he still loves her.
B. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Occasion – Marina is waiting for Dr. Swenson, the Bovenders, and her suitcase.
The event – While waiting for Dr. Swenson to arrive in Manaus, Marina fills her time with exploring Dr. Swenson’s past, and discovers no personal data about her prior to bursting on the academic scene with work which builds on that done by Dr. Rapp.
The emotion – Marina’s impatience at being stranded turns to suspicions and uncertainty about Dr. Swenson.
C. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carre
The Occasion – Leamas is being interrogated by Peters.
The Event – Leamas reveals discovering an almost unbelievable source of intelligence in the heart of the East German government, and neither he nor London ever questioned the legitimacy of the source or the information.
The Emotion – Leamas likes and trusts Peters professionalism, and reveals his desperation to develop Reinack as a credible source of information and allow him to remain a field agent, perhaps ignoring how sureal this entire scenario is.
D. The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan
The Occasion – Perrin wakes up with Zairine in his room unbidden.
The Event – Perrin awakens to find Zairine in his room, after which she tries to learn if he is the Dragon Reborn, only to be interrupted when Moraine announces one of the Forsaken is ruling Illian.
The Emotion – Perrin is surprised by Zairine and worries she is the woman Minn warned him to flee from.
2 – Composing Events: Conceive a unit of narrative that has enough action and meaning to suggest a strong scene. Look for moments when things are off-kilter, when a character is under stress.
Idea 1 – While standing in line in a store, I overheard a mother talking to a high school age girl, her daughter perhaps, saying, “So, what are you going to do now that he’s run out on you?”
Occasion – A daughter runs to her mother to tell her she is pregnant and the father has dropped out of school and joined the army.
Characters – Marie is a marginal student, in her senior year in high school. Hanna is a single mom, working as a secretary, trying to make ends meet for her daughter and two siblings. Other shoppers, unconnected to the drama, are walking past.
Opening – Marie circles the parking lot until she finds her mother’s car, and parks next to it. Hanna is in the store.
Scene – A teenage girl trying to slip back under the protective wing of her mother, needing help her mother feels too tired to give.
Idea 2 – In a fast food place, a grammar school age girl was running around, and her shoes had LEDs in them that light up every time she took a step. She paused to look at a bulletin board, studying hand-made greeting cards, then skipped away.
Occasion – A divorced father takes his daughter to a fast food restaurant for supper on his weekend with his daughter.
Characters: Celia is the eight year old daughter of recently divorced Don and Cathy. She spends one weekend a month with her father, and the rest of the time with her mother; Don, the father of Celia, recently divorced his wife of nine years. He is a carpenter, working on a housing development that is nearing completion, and has put in a lot of overtime.
Opening – Don gets a call from his boss asking him to come in on Saturday to work overtime to keep the building project on schedule.
Scene – Don explains to his daughter why she must go back and be with her mother Saturday morning, instead of staying with him until Sunday evening.
Idea 3 – In the library, two young ladies were quizzing each other on biology questions.
Occasion – Mandy and Shannon are preparing for their biology final.
Characters: Mandy is a straight-A student, who signed up for the tutoring program; Shannon is taking this biology class for the second time, and is on the verge of failing it again.
Opening – Just before coming into the library, Shannon takes Adderall, stolen from her brother’s prescription, hoping she can concentrate
Scene – As they study and quiz each other, Mandy notices how focused Shannon is. But she notices how thin her friend has become, and the bags under her eyes. When she brings it up, Mandy becomes angry.
3 – The Cheat Sheet: Chose three stories, list the first event of the story: What happens? What is set in motion?
A. Storm Front by Jim Butcher
First event in the story – Harry Dresden gets his morning mail, a registered letter.
What is set in motion – Harry, behind on his rent, needs to take a case so he can pay his bills, but the police want his help on a murder investigation
Emotion – Harry is irritated by non-believers and anxious about paying his rent.
B. Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
First event in the story – An English girl, Miss L. Martin arrives at the Paris airport
What is set in motion – Miss L Martin, a poor English girl, arrives in France to take a job as tutor to a rich French boy, having secured the job by pretending to know nothing of France, having hidden living in France during World War Two, and must conceal her true expertise to keep her job.
Emotion – Miss L. Martin is excited about returning to France, and anxious to conceal her true identity as she takes her new job.
C. The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan
First event in the story – Pedron Niall studies Jaret Byar.
What is set in motion – In the wake of the Dragon Reborn proclaiming himself at Falme, Jaret Byar reports the destruction of half a Legion by Aes Sedai in the midst of a battle with Sean Chan; and knows all his prior planning for the Final Battle are in ruins, and he must come up with a new plan to secure his legacy.
Emotion – Pedron Niall is an anxious old man who is desperate to salvage his legacy, having seen a years long plan shattered by the Dragon Reborn.
4 – The Theme Corral: Use four lines to capture the theme or idea of a story, without committing to characters, setting, etc.
Returning from her mother’s funeral a woman meets two men. She and one man feel a mutual attraction to each other. She learns the other is suicidal. She battles her grief, and juggles helping the second man, with growing mutual attraction between her and the first man.
5 – What have you learned.
Action in a scene is meaningful only if the POV or someone else in the scene attaches emotion to it, teaching the reader what to think and feel.
Actions build up a scene by taking the reader from the scene’s occasion to some new state that didn’t exist before, presumably with a bearing on the overall story question.
The danger of all talk in a scene is that there is no forward movement in the story, that nothing has changed. Or, if there is no emotion attached to what happened, it isn’t important.
Was There Something Here Which Rocked Your World?
Actions with out emotion are telling, not showing. Emotion without actions are melodrama. Neither move the scene forward. That probably draws a big yawn, but why did it take me so long to figure that out?
Emotion in a scene is different from emotion in the Sequel. Emotion tells us how the character feels about what is happening, right at that moment. Emotion in the Sequel lets the character experience emotion after the main action is over. The two types of emotion are different. In scene emotion, lets us see the POV attach importance to what is happening. Sequel emotion shows us how the POV feels about what just happened.
I picked up something from Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure. He coaches escalating a scene into a ping-pong match between our POV and her scene antagonist. Sooner or later we get into something like this, and I’ve outlined four volleys, although there could be just one or two, or many, covering several pages.:
(1) POV reacts to something earlier. POV initiates something new to reach their goal.
(2) Antagonist reacts to POV. Antagonist initiates something new to frustrate POV from their goal.
(3) POV reacts to antagonist action. POV initiates something else to reach their goal.
(4) Antagonist …
You get the point.
But Scofield opened my eyes about what should be happening down inside one of these steps. Let’s take Step 3 from above.
(3a) POV reacts to antagonist action.
We can add tension and emotion into this scene by paying attention to what happens between 3a and 3b.
We can amplify the POV’s reaction. She acknowledges what the antagonist just did, either through words, or actions, or thoughts.
We can add an emotional component at being frustrated in their attempt to reach their goal.
We can let our POV debate what to do next to reach their goal.
Our POV can decide what comes next.
(3b) POV initiates something else to reach their goal.
So why did it take me so long to figure this out?