No, I’m not talking about creating a scene where the beagle performs a trifecta of excessive drinking, public outrage, and her eventual arrest (complete with requisite call to her lawyer). I’m talking about the three parts to creating a scene so that it has a beginning, middle and end.
Part 1: Set the Scene
Setting the scene is like calling someone and identifying yourself. Nothing bugs me more when the caller doesn’t perform this simple courtesy, and they assume I’ll know who it is with a mere, “Hey, Lynn!” Wha’? Unless it’s a good friend with whom I talk to all the time, my brain goes blank.
So you need to do the same thing with every new scene. Identify your location, who are the key players (characters), and give some idea where the scene is headed.
Let’s say a scene focuses on a cancer patient who’s at a family dinner. It’s a tense scene that involves the patient telling her family that her cancer is no longer in remission. There is the usual dialog about “Oh no!” “Holy crap!” “What comes next?”
Part 2: Present the Key Elements
This is the middle part, the meat and potatoes of the scene. This is the most important part of the scene. Blow this, and your scene will fall apart like my attempts at baking.
The key elements to this sample scene could involve treatment – whether she’ll go for another surgery, or whether she’s decided to quit fighting and just surrender to the disease. This will incite a small riot with the family members, and they’ll all have their opinions on what the patient should do. This creates a conflict within the patient as to what decision she’ll ultimately make. She has to consider the consequences of each possible decision as she listens to all the varying demands that she take some sort of action.
If you don’t completely develop this part, then it’s hard to complete your thought in Part 3. The result is that the ending to the scene could feel rushed, abrupt, incomplete, or illogical…and lacking proper transition. Each part of your scene trifecta has to transition seamlessly into the next.
Again, it’s like cooking. If you have too few ingredients, then your finished product may not taste all that great.
Part 3: Complete Your Thought
This is the conclusion to the scene…and yes, you need some sort of resolution, even if it’s a cliff-hanger, that leads into the next scene. The idea is to end each big scene with a big reason to continue turning the pages.
What you cannot do is end the scene with a wet booger. A powerful scene deserves…demands…a powerful ending. This is what pulls the reader in and keeps them there, caring. Tepid is not an effective attention-grabber. You need to complete the thought with equal intensity.
So the sample I’m using has this tense scene between the cancer patient and her family. If the author didn’t fulfill her duties in Presenting Key Elements, then it will be hard to write a climactic ending because there isn’t enough red meat to draw upon. So the closing thought to the scene is, “Jane was never so happy to get into the car and drive home.”
Waitaminute! Jane has gone from listening to her family bark at her, to being happy she’s going home. She’s left everything still up in the air because the Part 2 is AWOL, and there is no completion of that thought. Wet. Booger. The result is that the reader will wonder why this scene was important. Oh, they may appreciate the possibility of its importance to the story, but they are unfulfilled.
Anything worth writing is worth writing it well, so that your readers will feel the emotions you’re shooting for. And it all starts with a great three part harmony of Setting the Scene, Presenting Key Elements, and Completing the Thought.