More Scene Problems – Solved
- Cast of thousands. The most dramatic conflict comes when two characters go head to head. More than two and the conflict starts to be diffused. Whenever possible, concentrate on just two characters. If you must have more around, keep them slightly off stage, or else make it very clear where the main conflict lies. It’s like making sure a subplot stays a subplot. Keep the tension as clear and unblocked as your story allows. Crowd scenes? Isolate the two main people somehow, even within a crowd.
On the other hand, in Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, Jessica Page Morrell says,”Avoid too many two-character scenes. They tend to box in the story.” Solution? Balance the scenes with some limited to two people, some with more than two participating, and some with thousands, but isolating the main combatants.
- Senseless banter. You want conflict, not senseless banter. Don’t fall into a trap of “Did not/Did so” type of exchange. Send characters into a scene with attitudes that are at tangents to each other. They agree on some things, but disagree on the major things. That prevents the senseless chatter and gives you a solid conflict.
- Unwanted interruptions. Don’t clutter scenes with cell phones ringing, babies crying, doorbells ringing. Bickham says some people try to add these things to make a story seem more realistic. Sorry, it doesn’t work. Don’t put a smoking gun into a story unless you intend to use it. Each element should be included because it adds to the story in substantial ways.
- Getting off track. Focus, focus, focus. Restate the scene goal, give characters internal thoughts about their goal, write out cards with a scene goal succinctly stated and tape it above your computer. Do whatever you need to make sure the scene is focused on the goal that fits your plot.
- Inadvertent summary. Ah, please, give us a blow-by-blow of the action in a scene. Scenes are not places for summary; instead put that in the transitions between scenes. How do you know if you’ve done this? Look for places where you use these words in a scene and make sure you revise to omit them: Later, after a few minutes, having thought it through, when they finally got back to the subject, meanwhile. Even if you need to fill story time, you still need to do it blow by blow. “The grandfather clock’s tick-tock filled the hallway, the seconds passing with regular clicks.”
- Loss of point of view. Please, stay in the point of view you have established. Unless you’re doing an omnipotent POV, you can’t dip into just anyone’s thoughts.
- Character forgets scene goal. You as an author must remember a scene goal; likewise, your character can’t forget what they wanted in a given scene. It’s like the spaghetting we talked about yesterday: small things can accumulate until the scene’s focus is lost. And that can happen to a character, too. Instead, you want a character who demands something, no wishy-washy stuff here.
- Unmotivated opposition. When the Big Bad Wolf goes after the 3 piggie brothers, we know why: he’s hungry. Likewise, in your scenes, it’s important to know why the villain is fighting so hard to get his/her way.
- Not enough is at stake. This usually relates to a poor scene goal that isn’t immediate, big enough in scope or have some finality in its resolution. Or you may need to move a private conflict into a more public realm to raise stakes. Putting several things at risk is another option. Just make sure every scene has enough risked in the conflict to make the outcome matter.
- Phony, Contrived Disasters. Let’s say two brothers are fighting over who gets the privilege of planting an oak tree. Of course, our main character Jeff has to lose. But here are some scene disasters that fall flat: Jeff gets to plant the pansy flower bed, instead of plant the tree. Or, what if Jess gets to help carry the tree over to the hole, but just can’t shovel in the dirt? Disasters need to make sense in the story and matter. Don’t shortchange a single scene by trivializing the scene’s ending.
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