Monday, 4 June 2012

A Good Scene Isn’t Written, It’s Dramatised


Every scene has a purpose. Once you know that purpose, and you make sure the scene fulfils that purpose, job done, right?

Not quite.

If a man is needs money and he goes to an ATM and gets some cash, and the purpose of the scene is to get him from broke to not broke,  then what you have is a dull scene.

Whether you tell me about him getting his money, or you show me him getting his money, it will be just as dull either way.

What the scene lacks isn’t purpose or clarity or action or a character with a goal, what it lacks is drama.


Just because you come up with a reason for the scene, and then demonstrate that purpose in how your character acts, doesn’t make it dramatic. And story is drama. Undramatic story is stuff that happened that nobody cares about.

What is drama? It’s someone wanting something they can’t have, and showing what they do about it.

If a man is broke and needs money desperately and has no obvious way to get it, what he then does to get money will be potentially dramatic. How desperate he is, the lengths he goes to, the risks he takes, these variables can be used to make the scene more dramatic. However, not every scene needs to be pitched at a hysterical level.

The key thing to remember is that after you've worked out your purpose for the scene, you also need to work out the character’s agenda for the scene. 

You may need Mary to meet her boyfriend’s mother, and once you arrange that (Hi, Mary, come in. I’d like you to meet my mother) it feels like you can move on to the next thing, but that’s just you getting yours. 

What was Mary’s goal? What was she hoping to happen? How can you make that interesting and dramatic?

Remember, the character’s goal and the writer’s goal aren’t always going to be the same, and when they differ, the reader will stay focused on the character. 

Nobody cares what you’re doing behind the scenes, and nor should they. Your job is to remain invisible. 

But the character who allows ‘fate’ to start making all the decisions and turns up in scenes just to see what happens and then goes along with it, will become passive and boring. 
If you found this post interesting, please give it a tweet. Cheers.

16 comments:

J.L. Campbell said...

I just finished a chapter and I'm looking at the same issues. Yes, some things were resolved, but is it enough to keep the reader with me for 2500 words. Good food for thought.

Delaney Diamond said...

Helpful info! As J.L. said, good food for thought. Thanks!

Christina M. McKnight said...

This is very true. I've cut thousands of words from my WIP to add more action and drama.

Jen Chandler said...

Very good food for thought. Just because a scene resolved a goal doesn't mean the way to that goal was interesting. Story is drama, as you said. That is great advice to keep in mind. It is the drama that makes the reader care about the character. The fact the man needs money but can't get it -no matter what he does- is where the story is. The resolution can come (must come?) but it must come at the price of putting that character at his lowest point and then watching him claw his way out!

Jen

cleemckenzie said...

Definitely true. And cutting those scenes is so hard when rewriting, yet after they're gone the pace improves and the through line becomes much stronger.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Back to eliminate all the dull scenes!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

"Nobody cares what you’re doing behind the scenes, and nor should they. Your job is to remain invisible." An excellent reminder as I trample my way through the woods of this Camp Nano manuscript. :)

Precy Larkins said...

Totally agree with this! Great post! :)

Carol Bodensteiner said...

You've just confirmed what I was thinking - the scene I'm working on is backstory and can be cut. Thanks!

Matthew MacNish said...

You mean people don't want to read about every minute of my character's day?

LD Masterson said...

Your posts alway provide new tools for re-reading and editing a WIP. Thank you.

Nancy Thompson said...

All great points! Drama is my middle name. If I can't make a scene super dramatic, then it has no place in my book.

Charmaine Clancy said...

Excelle nt point, and the motivation must be strong enough for the action. Good reminder here that everything in our story must be essential for the story to work otherwise chop chop.

mooderino said...

@JL-I think as long as you're aware of it you're on the way to sorting it.

@Delaney - welcome.

@Christina - I don't think you always need to cut straight to action, but keeping a clear throughline through a scene always helps.

@Jen - I think there are numerous ways of creating drama, some more intense than others. It's a matter of preference how you do it, just as long as you do do it.

@clee - that's very true. once it's gone the anxiety goes too.

@Alex - I'm sure you have none.

@Madeline - early on you can tramp away as much as you like. Never be afraid to trample when you need to.

mooderino said...

@Precy - thanks.


@Carol - bear in mind backstory can be dramatic too.

@Matthew - well, in your case they may make an exception.

@LD - you're welcome.

@Nancy - Nancy Drama Thompspon, has a ring too it.

@Charmaine - essential or hilarious, I tend to think.

Suze said...

'What is drama? It’s someone wanting something they can’t have, and showing what they do about it.'

I had my narrator get off a bus, today, and was about to point her in the direction of the right house without obstacle when I remembered the 'truth' about writing you have been hammering at all of us in the blogosphere for at least the year that I've known about Moody Writing. I decided then and there to make things tough for her.

Today, I felt like a real novelist.

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