The Two Scene Types: Part One – Proactive Scene

Summer scene, N.Y. - drinking water from stree...
Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

The proactive scene is the scene most writers think about when they think “scene.”A proactive scene begins with a Goal, continues through most of the scene with Conflict, and concludes with a Setback.

Certain elements are essential:

  1. Time and place.  This is so basic that many writers forget to ground us as to where we are?  Especially when working through the timeline of the story with multiple characters.  Is it the same day?  That evening?  The next morning?  Are we still at the palace?  In a back street?  Remember all those out-of-proportion floor plans you drew when you were preparing your background material, use them to orient your audience. You did drew them, right?  Are we upstairs?  On the stairway?  Outside looking in?
  2. Character Emotional Development. If conflict, tension and suspense drive the reader to turn the page or send the viewer to the edge of her seat, the character emotional development motivates them. Readers read stories and viewers go to the movies to learn about a character’s emotional development. The word development implies growth or change. Therefore character becomes a layer.
  3. Goal.  The characters’ goals in the scene are the set up for conflict.  This may or may not be the overriding goal of the story.  But, you need each character to have a goal to accomplish in the scene.
  4. Dramatic Action. Dramatic action that unfolds moment-by-moment on the page makes up the next layer of scene.  This is what the characters do, how they act and interact.
  5. Conflict.  Within the action you need a layer or two of conflict, tension and/or suspense. The conflict does not have to be overt, but it must be present in some form. Fill a scene with tension or suspense or something unknown lurking in the shadows and you have yourself an exciting story. Remember that setbacks and failure create suspense, conflict and tension, not success or good news.
  6. Emotional Change.  The action in every scene affects the overall emotional growth of your characters for the entire work, the action also affects your characters emotional state at the scene level. In other words, the character’s mood changes because of what is said or done in that specific scene.  Let your reader know what your characters feel.

Proactive scenes move the story along through action.  In Part Two I’ll take a look at what moves the story along through inaction.  What?  An inactive scene?  Well, yes…but…

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