Keeping Scenes on Track
30 Days to a Stronger Scene Table of Contents
Before we go much farther in writing and plotting with scenes, I want to give you an example of keeping things on track in a scene. Here are 5 things to monitor as you write your scene.
Scene: Choosing Paint Color
In this relatively minor scene the Main Character (MC) comes home to find Mom and the Painter choosing paint colors. Painter has been making minor repairs and it’s now time for paint.
It’s an important scene because Mom’s criteria for colors is what will help the house sell better; it emphasizes to the MC that Mom intends to go through with actually selling the house.
MC comes in from school to find Mom and Painter in Breakfast room discussing paint colors. Mom rejects the bright colors suggested for their own house because the real estate agent says white colored rooms sell better. MC goes up to his room to pout.
MC comes home from school to find Painter in breakfast room, waiting for Mom to get home. Mom is delayed because there’s lots of road construction on the way to her office (a needed bit of foreshadowing/set-up for Mom missing a later appointment). MC leans over table and points to bright colors. Painter says those are jewel tones and would be great in this old house. What color would you want for your room?
Intrigued, sits down and MC shuffles through the color chips and decides he wants the deep burgundy for his walls; his room has lots of windows and is full of light, so a dark color will work.
Mom comes home late, flustered. She barely acknowledges MC, but goes straight to work. Shoves back in the jewel tones, citing the real estate agent’s opinion about white. Spends the next few minutes discussing the nuances of white, while MC stomps upstairs. There, he imagines the room with white walls and thinks it will be too light and look awful and wonders how Mom could even consider moving.
- Letting the MC be the MC. In the first version, the MC had nothing to do but watch a conversation and pout. The second version delays the confrontation with Mom until the MC has committed to a choice of colors.
- Physical Actions. In the revision, the MC has physical actions: leans over table to see paint chips, gets drawn in and sits down to sort through the paint chips, chooses a particular color. Scenes mean physical actions!
- Emotions. He has lots more emotions: not interested, curious, attracted by the “jewel colors,” makes an emotional choice of red for his wall color, is miffed when Mom ignores him and doesn’t ask his opinion, is aggravated at the continual emphasis on the real estate agent’s opinions and finally regrets that he got involved because now he’s even sadder about the white paint and about moving.
- Specifics. Everything is more specific. There’s a reason why Mom is late, there are specific names of colors, more exact physical actions and more nuance in the emotional interplay.
It’s not a big scene, but it’s still an essential one: it moves the story forward in important ways. Small refocusing of scenes upfront will help the writing go well and ultimately, will keep the reader more interested and turning pages.