Sometimes I seem almost normal. But then I remember that normal people don’t write their own definitions for “scene” while sitting in a parking lot waiting for kids to come out of school. But that’s what I did this week… for fun.
Maybe it’s because I’ve realized that in my limited writing time I need to focus on smaller chunks of text at one time. Maybe it’s because I see how modern fiction has morphed into nothing but scene. Maybe it’s because I think if I can master scene, I reach all of my writing goals.
Here’s what I came up with on my own: Scene is an event, with a time and place, that has action and reaction (emotion).
Coincidentally, I began my Spring semester yesterday at Boise State, and guess what the topic de jour was? You guessed it. (I will admit, I was slightly giddy that it aligned with my obsession of the week.)
Here’s what my instructor, the brilliant Mitch Weiland, came up with:
Scene is an event in time/space that takes place in real time. It should be composed of a good balance of action, dialogue, interiority and description. He then gave a quick writing exercise that can help get that balance. I wanted to share it so you can try it out to.
Begin with two characters you know very well from your own writing. You can even use a scene that you’ve tried to write before but it just wasn’t working out for whatever reason. Then, use the following prompts to write 20 sentences that will flow together to form your scene.
- A sentence with a wall or boundary in it
- A Sentence with weather (or related)
- A sentence with sound
- A sentence with a gesture
- A line of dialogue of six words or less
- A sentence with light
- A line of dialogue of ten words or more
- A Sentence with a ceiling or floor in it
- A sentence with a texture
- A sentence with an object smaller than a hand
- A sentence conveying an internal response (i.e. happiness, anger, confusion)
- A sentence with a smell
- A sentence with a piece of furniture
- A line of dialogue that is a question
- Another line of dialogue that is a question
- A sentence with a hand or fingers
- A sentence with a single interior thought
- A sentence with an allusion to a current event
- A sentence with a metaphor
- A Line of dialogue that is whispered
Have fun with it and don’t worry about perfection. I love when ask for feedback on their responses to prompts, so please share your results!
Here is a rough draft of my version of the exercise:
Hide and Seek
The last time I saw her, she’d made a blowfish on the other side of the window from our usual table at Sal’s Diner. Now, morning frost crept up the pane, almost touching the berry lip gloss smudge. The Sheriff cleared his throat behind me, and I jumped, sloshing hot chocolate over the edge of the mug. I shook my hand off and tried to suck the sweet burn off my index finger.
“I’ll ask again. Where is she?” He said, motioning to the empty diner like she might be hiding behind one of the vinyl-padded barstools.
I turned back to the window, watching the spinning red and blue lights outside and the gathering crowd trying to get a glimpse of me like I knew something.
“Come on, Tommy. You know you’re the most likely suspect, but you also know I don’t believe you’d hurt my step daughter.”
I leaned back and stared at the water-stained ceiling. She called it our “popcorn map of asbestos” where she could see the shape of France and I found the boot of Italy. That’s when I saw the clue—a pink push pin—right in the heart of Paris. Giddy laughter threatened to escape as I tried to recall where I’d put my passport. She could finally put the City-of-Love-smells-like-piss rumor to rest.
Sheriff dragged a chair to my table and sat backwards on it, facing me. “Why do I get the feeling your hiding something from me, Mr. Erickson?”
Finally, I made eye contact with him and said, “Should I stop hiding the things I know about you and your step daughter?”
He drummed his fingers on the tabletop, making Jurassic Park ripples in my drink.
He doesn’t know how much I know.
“Was it a one-time thing, or are you an aspiring Bill Cosby?” I said, letting my anger overrule my better sense.
Judging by the crimson rising up his neck, I knew we had a stalemate. He loosened his bola tie and the next words came out as barely more than a whisper, “Get outta town, son. Don’t come back.”