So You Want to Write a Story (Part 4)

Now we’re on to the larger scales of writing: Scenes. 

So, hopefully by now you’ve read through the earlier parts on Character, Conflict, and Motivation-Reaction Units, and you’ve taken the time to practice writing some short stories

Yep, don’t forget that second part. Want to be a writer? Want to write a story? You need to write. And the easiest way to get started is by writing short stories. 

I don’t recommend anyone start this journey by trying to write a novel. It’s like getting up off the couch and trying to run a marathon or trying to clean and press a barbell. It’s a surefire way to discourage yourself, injure your pride, and maybe even turn you off from writing all together. 

Conversely, writing short stories will help stretch your proverbial writing muscles and build confidence. Short stories have a low bar to entry—a thousand words, or even a few hundred words of flash fiction and voila, you’ve written a story. Even a fledgling writer can write a short story a month. Contrast this with some horror stories of authors slaving away over a single book for years. 

So, get some short story practice under your belt before reading ahead.

You’re back? Great. Let’s get started with Scenes and they’re lesser known accomplice, Sequels

At their core, Scenes are like short stories, and utilize elements of Character, Setting, and Conflict that we’ve talked about in earlier parts of this series. There is a purpose to each scene—the Character needs to accomplish something—therefore, each scene has Conflict.

Let’s build a scene from a detective story. 

Our detective arrives at the scene of a robbery. She needs to figure out what was stolen and gather clues about how it happened. 

At the largest scale, that is our scene. To actually write it involves putting ourselves in the detective’s eyes using Character, Setting details, and Motivation-Reaction Units (MRU) from earlier in this blog series. 

The detective arrives on scene at the jewelry store. What details does she notice as she walks in? How shaken up is the manager? What details about the robbery does she notice first? 

Ending a scene and moving to the next scene can be as easy as writing an MRU. Our detective goes through the crime scene, next she needs to watch the security tapes. Or, maybe you (the writer) decide the security tapes only need a summary and not a full scene, so the detective’s next scene is taking fingerprints in for processing. 

No matter how irrational your characters or zany your plot, all stories can be written using this step by step approach. A happens, so B happens next. Then C and so on. Action-Reaction and Scene by Scene. 

So what’s a Sequel (to a scene)?

In short, some Scenes are so powerful that they require a direct follow up. A tragic loss or devastating plot point (or even victory) can require a whole other scene (a Sequel) to give them the proper weight. 

Imagine our detective following the clues to their logical end. She thinks she’s caught the thief. She kicks down the door, only to find the suspect already dead. She was wrong, and now the real thief is also a murderer. The stakes have just gone up and now our detective takes a separate scene to go back through the clues and beat herself up a little for being wrong. One of the clues was a Red Herring, a fake, a phony. 

If you’re thinking that there doesn’t seem like a lot of difference between Scenes and Sequel scenes—you’re right. On the surface, there isn’t a lot of difference. Remember however, that Sequels only follow particularly powerful scenes—and Sequels are where your Character grapples with the emotions. This requires a separate scene. Use them to develop your Characters. 

Our detective, upon discovering the body and that she was wrong, isn’t going to pull out her bottle of scotch and mope at the murder scene. She’s going to go back to the precinct, mope and consult the evidence. Or maybe she’ll go to a trusted superior or friend and share that bottle of scotch before finding the resolve to continue the investigation. 

Remember—Not every Scene needs a Sequel. Save those emotional follow-ups for the big stuff. 

So, now you’ve got a general A-B-C way to get from Scene to Scene (and to the occasional Sequel).

What genre is your story? 

Sam, what does that have to do with Scenes and Sequels?

Well, writing a longer story is tough. It’s like cooking without a recipe. Sure, your grandmother doesn’t need a recipe for making her special chocolate chip cookies, but you can bet your ass that you should use one, newbie

Let’s stick with our mystery/detective story. We need clues and witnesses, maybe separate scenes for all the different witnesses. We’ll probably need a false lead and a Red Herring, fake clues to throw our detective and our readers off track. We’ll need an “aha” moment, followed by the final confrontation. Maybe even a chase scene or a shootout. 

Or take romance. We need a separate introductory scene for both the lovers. A scene where they meet, a few more where they get to know each other. Some kind of misunderstanding or false break up to keep tension, followed by a Happily Ever After. 

Fantasy—Meet the unlikely hero, hero meets mentor, hero discovers powers. Hero meets villain. Villain kicks hero’s ass. Hero gets some more training or unlikely allies. Cue final battle. 

I’m speaking in super general terms to illustrate a point: That all genres have similar plot points. This is the reason frameworks like the Three Act Structure and the Hero’s Journey exist—because stories and genres follow recipes. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s a fact of writing. Check out this post on genre expectations. 

And don’t forget to get some writing in. 

I’ll be waiting.

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