Creating Scenes Fiction Writer’s Workshop Josip Novakovich To construct a scene: Conflict: a scene has a plot of its own that relates to the overall plot Characters are fleshed out, seen Geography exists At least one in a short story—fully realized Event: who, what, where, when, how, why Continuous: must flow like music and be spatial Minor scenes and summary—lead to one major scene Example: “Every Sunday morning she walked to the Unitarian Church. As she walked, she would spit at the hedges.” The summary takes care of many small scenes, although there can be exceptions in which you come close to a real scene Exceptions (John Cheever’s “O Youth and Beauty” “Then if the host had a revolver, he would be asked to produce it. Cash would take off his shoes and assume a starting crouch behind a sofa. Trace would fire the weapon out of an open window, and if you were new to the community and had not understood what the preparations were about, you would then realize that you were watching a hurdle race. Over the sofa went Cash, over the tables, over the fire screen and the wood box. It was not exactly a race, since Cash ran it alone, but it was extraordinary to see this man of forty surmount so many obstacles so gracefully.” In the end, Cash’s wife kills him with a gun in a developed scene. A Miracle • Think of your scene like a miracle. • Developed scene is not a usual event; it happens only once. • If it is a habit or happens many times, it is a custom. • Culminating point of your story must be laid out as a scene or several scenes. Goal (end of story) Summarize auxiliary action, (the girl habitually spitting in the hedge) BUT Dramatize key moments Include specifics of character Nonverbal Behavior Brisk, erect walk Standing with hands on hips Sitting with legs crossed, foot kicking Sitting, legs apart Arms crossed on chest Walking with hands in pockets, shoulders hunched Confidence Readiness, aggression Boredom Open, relaxed Defensiveness Dejection Hand to cheek Touching, slightly rubbing nose Rubbing the eye Hands clasped behind back Rubbing hands Sitting with hands clasped behind head, legs crossed Evaluation, thinking Rejection, doubt, lying Doubt, disbelief Anger, frustration, apprehension Anticipation Confidence, superiority Slow Down Action • Slow down even quick action • To do so, concentrate on the sensory details: • Wooden floors, bucket of water in the kitchen, down cover • stamping, cold hands, creaking throat bulging eyes • Wants more honey cakes (even though he’s scared) Conflict • Whatever conflict evolves will culminate in a scene. • Character clashes with obstacle (person or thing) • Tension builds leading to scene • A boy has seen his father killed by German soldiers; a soldier arrives when boy is sick: puts something in glass and it tastes bitter—the boy thinks he’s poisoned and we know this, even though he doesn’t say so, by his actions. • The character must want or fear something that might happen during this scene • When the action of the scene occurs, we are immersed in the action. Gabriel Garcia Marquez One Hundred Years of Solitude “Jose Arcadio’s companion asked them to leave them alone, and the couple lay down on the ground, close to the bed. The passion of the others woke up Jose Aracadio’s fervor. On the first contact, the bones of the girl seemed to become disjointed with a disorderly crunch like the sound of a box of dominoes, and her skin broke out into a pale sweat and her eyes filled with tears as her whole body exhaled a lugubrious lament and a vague smell of mud. But she bore the impact with a firmness of character and a bravery that were admirable. Jose Arcadio felt himself lifted up into the air toward a state of seraphic inspiration, where his heart burst forth with an outpouring of tender obscenities that entered the girl through her ears and came out of her mouth translated into her language.” The scene (an evaluation) • Engages our sensory imagination (hearing, touch, sight, smell, even balance) • Uses metaphors (“seraphic inspiration”) • In writing this erotic scene, the beauty of the language in creating vivid imagery creates an aesthetically strong experience. • Has no dialogue, although talk is implied • This kind of scene could lead to the fully developed scene that usually contains dialogue. The Big Scene Once you know your characters and their conflicts, you can enter the big scene. Stephen Crane’s “The Blue Hotel.” A paranoid Swede expects snowy Nebraska to be the wild West where everybody cheats at cards; he trembles with fear that someone will kill him, thinks he sees people cheat at cards, gets into a fist fight with an innkeeper’s son, wins and then becomes cocky at another bar. Just when he celebrates his being a tough guy, This is what happens. He insists that a gambler drink with him, but he refuses. The Swede drags the gambler from his chair, “’What! You won’t drink with me, you little dude….There [is] a great tumult, and then [is] seen a long blade in the hand of the gambler. It [shoots] forward, and a human body, this citadel of virtue, wisdom, power, [is] pierced as easily as if it had been a melon. The Swede [falls] with a cry of supreme astonishment.” The scene goes on. Elements of storytelling in the Big Scene Dialogue Action: the Swede grasps the gambler Body language: “He [stalks] over to the table…” Vivid similes and metaphors: “pierced as easily as if it had been a melon.” Steady POV (objective): “and then was seen a long blade.” Theatrical POV But don’t be lured into using passive voice such as you see here. Note that the objective narrator is not consistent. When the narrator comments, the “human body, this citadel of virtue, wisdom, power…” he is intruding, making a judgment about the Swede that would be inappropriate to a pure theatrical narration. It works here because the narrator has been so well established. Wrap-Up Summary scenes Minor scenes Silent scenes lead up to the BIG SCENE Remember, all rules can be broken; this pattern can be reversed and work well.