Martha is the bestselling author of The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master where she first introduced the Universal Story to transform writers’ creative lives and to “show” plot. The Plot Whisperer Work book: Step-by-Step Exercises to Help You Create Compelling Stories and The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts: Easy Exercises to Get You Writing quickly followed. Her most recent book is Writing Deep Scenes: Plotting Your Story Through Action, Emotion & Theme written with Jordan Rosenfeld. Writing Blockbuster Plots: A Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Plot, Structure & Scene is due out March 16, and Secrets of Personal Transformation: A Spiritual Guide comes next.
Jordan is author of three novels, most recently Women in Red, and four writing guides, most recently Writing Deep Scenes and A Writer’s Guide to Persistence. Her essays and articles have appeared widely in publications like Alternet, Creative Live, DAME magazine, GOOD magazine, the New York Times, Pacific Standard, Rewire Me, The Rumpus, Salon.com, and the Washington Post. She teaches online writing courses through Mediabistro.com.
Both of us feel that scenes are essential DNA of solid storytelling, and that all writers need to learn to master them. But we’re especially excited about offering writers ways to take their work deeper, richer and help it to stand out from the rest.
Master Scene Types for Page-Turning Plots
[pullquote] A quick refresher: A scene is defined by the presence of more real-time momentum than interior monologue (contemplation) or expository explanation.” [/pullquote]
While many writers know the basics of writing scenes, a common habit among writers of all stages is to use the same type of scene throughout an entire manuscript. A quick refresher: A scene is defined by the presence of more real-time momentum than interior monologue (contemplation) or expository explanation. Real-time momentum is a combination of action, dialogue, and character interaction with her surroundings and other characters. Scenes crackle with energy and emotions that make readers feel as though they are right beside (or inside) the character as she experiences any number of situations and scenarios. In contrast, narrative summary—lecturing, explaining, or describing—puts readers to sleep after too long.
Scene Types Add Complexity
Like a composer using one note in a symphony or a painter choosing only a single color for a large mural, the effect of using the same scene type for the duration of a novel often creates a flat or monotonous story that doesn’t allow your character to undergo a full breadth of transformation, or the action to fall flat. Thus, we hope that writers will choose from our toolbox of 15 scene types to enliven their plots.
Action, Emotion & Theme in Every Scene
All strong plots are built upon an interweaving of three key elements: Action—the goals and events and momentum of your story; Emotion—how your character develops and changes as she is affected by events; Theme—the significance of the story that is created at the plot level, and revealed in every scene and sentence. While some scene types lend themselves better to one element or another (Dialogue scenes can feel very “action” intensive; Contemplative scenes are usually very emotion and character driven), the best scenes try to weave in all three layers.
Scene types Vary Intensity, Emotion and Tension.
The best scenes are those that accomplish many story demands at once. Still, not all scenes are equal. Every scene moves at a different pace, and has different goals, thus allowing you to vary the tempo, intensity and energy of your scenes.
Scene Types Make a Symphony of Your Plot
Think of plot design as a musical act and scenes as the many, varied notes and tones a writer can choose from to compose a layered, riveting story. Once you learn to identify the fixed Energetic Markers of your plot—the key junctures that appear, universally, in all great stories—and to play with types of scenes to create appropriate drama and nuance at the buildup to and location of the Markers, your story will transform into one that readers can’t put down.
Different scene types move with different energy; you might avoid too many slow contemplative scenes at the beginning of a novel when you want the action to move along, but you will be well-served by using suspense scenes, which build anticipation at almost any juncture of the story.
A Variety of Scene Types Show Character Complexity
If you find yourself always writing rapid fire dialogue scenes, you may be missing important opportunities to use suspense or epiphany scenes to move your character through an engaging and believable emotional course of transformation. The more scene types you use, the more effectively you can show character depth and nuance.
Two of Our Favorite Scene Types:
One of our favorite scenes is the love scene. We enjoy both reading and writing love scenes because, by their nature, nothing bad will happen in the scene, at least not at first. Perhaps there is a shadow of doubt or looming suspense about some unknown, however, even when used to alleviate the intensity of the middle, a love scene provides a moment of shared intimacy and shows the character at a vulnerable point.
One of the deepest relationships a character has with another character is an in-love relationship (meaning that the love is intimate and extends beyond, for instance, the love of a mother or father for a child, or the love between best friends, or the love of a character for her pet). A character in love with another involves emotion and thus broadens the reader’s understanding of the character as depicted through her body language, dialogue, thoughts, and reactions. Stories come alive through people interacting in meaningful and loving ways. Love scenes:
- show a loving interaction between two (or more) characters who have a deep affection of one another.
- show two characters who have a passionate, mutual desire, longing, or deep feeling of sexual attraction, and like each other very much.
- reveal the protagonist’s inner self through intimacy with another.
- involve physical, spiritual, and/or emotional passion.
- may or may not involve sex or making love.
A twister scene reveals a significant twist in the forward movement of the story, often one that comes with a shock or surprise to both protagonist and reader. A twister scene does the following:
- twists the direction of the story away from where previous scenes were leading the reader.
- may reverse your character’s fortune or forward progress, and appears to create insurmountable obstacles.
- presents a major turn of events or shock to your character that is neither crisis nor climax but complicates the character’s circumstances; in other words, it raises the stakes. The change is detrimental to the character’s goals and also reflects his change of emotion.
- reveals character traits and thematic significance foreshadowed and otherwise hidden from the reader until now.
Get to know the variety of different scene types to write unforgettable stories.
Of the three layers found in all scene types—Action, Emotion, and Theme—which one do you write most effortlessly? Which one do you struggle with the most, and if you can answer it, why?