Clarify the Scenes

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Disappearing and Melted Teacup Images

A stimulating plot consists of twists and turns, ups and downs, highs and lows – all accomplished by variety in the types of scenes.  Intentionally distinguish the purpose of each scene to avoid repetition in the pacing of your storyline.  The following are a selection of scenes you can incorporate in the foundation of a well-crafted storyline.

Opening Scene:  There will be one opening scene and it serves a critical purpose.  Introduce the protagonist to the reader and establish the mood of the story.  Inner thoughts or immediate action aid with revealing the mindset of the character.  Make clear the underlying question of the overall story.

Conflict Scenes:  It is no secret that conflicts are critical to a story.  Conflicts results in attentive readership.  After developing the protagonist with the opening scene, reveal what is at stake.  Introduce a critical event.  Conflict surfaces when two characters desire a different outcome.   Emotions are peaked and character flaws exposed; however, make the reactions fit the personality types of the characters.  Don’t force the characters to respond in a way that will justify having a conflict.  Allow the conflict to develop over time and subtly by mentioning the resistance or negative thought prior to the conflict scene.  The conflict can be internal and unjustified.  The only requirement is for a struggle to warrant more than one possible result.

Setup Scenes:  Provide background information during setup scenes to orient the reader within the setting.  Use the past to establish the intentions of the protagonist and evoke empathy regarding his current circumstances.  Setup scenes link together the elements of the plot and give depth to the characters.  Insights about the characters’ past provide their motivation to take action, thereby propelling the plot forward.  Include family and economic background of the characters to spark readers to care.

Confirmation Scenes:  Following each setup scenes, the movements and thoughts of the characters confirm the background information by revealing the results of the past.  If you mentioned that your protagonist’s mother died in a car wreck, take time to describe her reaction to a traffic jam due to a jack-knifed 18-wheeler.  Make sure you confirm previously provided information about the characters at a point in the plot that will provide the most impact.  For instance, don’t talk about the car wreck after she takes a shower and before she gets in the car.

Time Warp Scenes:  Pacing the plot invites the protagonist to think of his past or even wonder about his future.  Time warp scenes supply critical information the reader must know before understanding what is to follow.  Make the time change obvious, whether it goes into the past or into the future.  Keep the reader oriented as to the place and when the situation occurred.  To justify the lull in action, only shift to a different time when the past or future is more intense than the current situation.  Do not remain in the time warp for a long.  Remember that shifting to the future thrusts the reader out of the story.  Consider beginning the story at the point of the flashback, thus making it a current event.

Obstacle Scenes:  Instill complexity in your plot by preventing the characters from attaining their desires during several obstacle scenes wherein a physical force prevents him from moving forward.  Emotional impact rises when outside forces prevent the character from reaching her intended outcome.  Give the protagonist a morsel of his desire and then replace his advantages with difficulties without losing momentum in the storyline.  Obstacle scenes intensify the plot with suspense.  Allow the protagonist to believe she is reaching her goals and then reveal that she is on the wrong path.  The more setbacks, the more heightened the resolution becomes.  Make sure the obstacles are unique for your circumstances.

Pivotal Scene:  Allowing the protagonist to overcome the obstacles, show his suffering from mistakes, and resolve any misunderstandings in his relationships, then slap him with a sense of having no solution to an even greater problem.  Only one pivotal scene will be in each novel.  This bleakest moment provides greater impact than the obstacle scenes.  Sensationalize the impact with an uncontrollable force the protagonist is unequipped to handle.  It could be making the wrong decision or having a fallback to prior destructive behavior.  The solution of the pivotal scene invokes disharmony and additional suffering.  Follow the pivotal scene with several more obstacle scenes and then one final, blow-out conclusion scene.

Climax Scene:  The plot guides the reader to one climax – the moment the obstacles are resolved and the desires are fulfilled.  The peak of the plot is the most significant moment in the protagonist’s life of the novel.  Her mental state rises above the outstanding issues and inner conflicts.  A love scene can climax as a man vows to remain with a woman even if they never resolve their differences.  The end of a chase or resolution to a question other ways to reach a climax.

Conclusion Scene:  At the end of your story answer open-ended questions and fill in the blanks.  Ease the reader out of the story instead of providing a jarring halt to the events.  Provide a sense of contentment like a flavorful desert to clear the pallet.

It takes a flavoring of the different type of scenes to satisfy the reader’s senses.  Keeping track of what types of scenes you have guarantees your plot will be balanced.  Clarity of mind sparks the imagination.  An easy way to keep up with the types of scenes you have created is by underlining the text in a color you have selected for each scene type.  The colors provide a visual as to whether you have provided the right amounts of each element to your storyline.

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A Humdinger Ending

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Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans

Endings can make or break an entire story. We’ve all heard about the protagonist’s motivation dictating his actions. His motivation shapes the plot and determines the big finale of the story. Whether you’re a plotter with an outline, or a panster with a completed first draft, once you’ve decided on the resolution, revise with a mind to bolster the ending. Set up the elements before you reach the final chapter.

  1. Say It Like You Mean It

Gossip, gossip, gossip. We’ve all been victims. We’ve done our share of spreading seedy details about others, too. It catapults a person’s reputation from dreary housewife into conniving diva. The neighbor who wears high heels with a pajama top to walk down the driveway and pick up the morning paper becomes headline news.

Embellishing the facts is delicious. Tension sky-rockets every time a character expresses a strong opinion about the antagonist.

“He’d kill a kitten in a playground.”

“That woman cheated on her husband and then took his entire savings while he was away in the war.”

  1. Spread the Dirty Laundry

Readers love to hate and they love to find a reason to hate. A great excuse to disapprove of a person comes from casting judgment on him.

Exposing the dark secrets of the antagonist’s past does wonders for turning readers against him. Character traits we, as a society, can’t forgive include, harming our neighbors, abusing pets and children, and showing a lack of respect toward the environment. The antagonist loses supporters when he only thinks of himself. The reader yearns to find fault where the antagonist deserves his up-commence.

The anatomist beats his dog.

He refuses to share his cookies with his mother.

He chews out a cashier at the grocery store.

  1. Sock It to Me

As long as the scenes prove the protagonist has a right to defeat the antagonist, the ending can be outlandish. Develop the story so that the protagonist must win in order to overcome personal obstacles, protect others, and survive another day.

Give plenty of examples where the protagonist gets kicked around. All the while, the protagonist takes the higher road. Her only wish is for a better life where she receives her well-deserved recognition.

The protagonist spends sixteen hours a day for two years training for the Olympics.

She blows out her ankle and knee replacement surgery.

Her mother’s dying wish is to see her baby win.

  1. It Can’t Get Any Worse

Let your characters be pessimistic about the odds the protagonist will reach her goal. We want the gory details to be stated loudly and clearly.

Having several characters see how bleak matters are for the protagonist gives credibility to their predictions. If it’s only the protagonist’s mom who says she has no chance, the reader will dismiss the comment. Once three or four people in the story have the same sense of foreboding, the negative viewpoints become a hardcore fact.

“No one’s ever made it through the Death Valley pass on foot.”

“You’d have to get a perfect score on the C.I.A. exam to make up for your terrible performance.”

“He’s never dated anyone from the office.”

  1. Put All the Eggs in One Basket

As the story progresses, slam every door in the protagonist’s face. Let him reach a point where there is only one shot for him to reach his goal. If he doesn’t come through with this one thing, there is absolutely no way he will win.

Lay out the foundation by letting the protagonist think of every possible mishap. He trains. He studies. He abstains from what he loves. Then, when all the bases are covered, remove his one opportunity.

The protagonist must use a special cupcake recipe to pull the hero out from amnesia. She finds the recipe. She saves money to buy the equipment and rare ingredients. She practices. In the final hour, she arrives at the train station with the cupcakes on a silver platter as the hero boards to leave forever. A dog attacks the protagonist and eats the cupcakes.

  1. The Golden Chalice

Lucky charms, precious heirlooms, and customized tools give the protagonist a boost over his rivals. Whether you call them superstitions or magical charms, the protagonist relies on one relic. Without it, he fails.

Place his hope to accomplish his goal on his crutch. Harry and his magic wand. Indiana Jones and his leather whip. Jack Sparrow and his compass. The Prince of Persia and the dagger.

In the final moment, remove the golden chalice. Destroy it. Give it to the antagonist. It doesn’t have to be fantastical. Losing that particular item raises the stakes.

The protagonist must have his mother’s pendant for his dream girl to recognize him after an accident disfigures his face. The antagonist melts the pendant and the protagonist has nothing.

  1. Giving It Up for Your Love

Throughout the story, give the protagonist something she can’t live without. One craving, object or activity must fuel her life. The world can collapse, but as long as she has this one thing, she rallies and keeps her wits.

It could be her alone time in the woods, her incredible job, her diamond comb or a violin she’s played ever since she learned to walk. At the critical hour, the protagonist voluntarily gives up the one thing that keeps her sane.

She quits her job to care for her crippled husband. She sells the only valuable possession she has, a comb she inherited from her grandmother, to purchase a present for her husband.

She’d rather have her fingers cut off and never play the piano again in exchange for staying with her one true love.

The protagonist is a race car driver. Her car is reliable and serves as her savings account. In the end, she crashes her car into the river to prevent the hero from falling to his death.

  1. Captain Underdog Rules the Day

A great strategy is for the antagonist and the protagonist to have equal chances of winning throughout the story. At the climax, shift the skill levels of the characters. Give that nasty antagonist a huge advantage. Let his strengths outweigh the capabilities of the protagonist.

With the new circumstances, the protagonist must think faster, find a unique resource, and change gears. He must devise a new solution.

Both women vying for the same man are beautiful. The antagonist gets promoted and wins the lottery. The protagonist rallies through her sincerity and amazing cooking to aid the hero in overcoming his fear of heights.

  1. Change a Leopard’s Spots

Readers love figuring out the ending before the characters do. They stick with the same genre because there is comfort in predictability.

We aren’t here to coddle our readers. Instead, shake their books off.

Set the stage for the typical outcome and take time playing it out. Build the story so that the protagonist craves for the likely ending. Then, deny, deny, deny. Don’t give the reader what he wants.

Three times, show the protagonist lose against the antagonist in chess. Establish that if the protagonist makes the Klondike Crush move, she’ll win every time. Let her botch the first step but then recover. She sees how to make the move, but the antagonist pulls out a gun and holds it to her grandmother’s head before the final play.

  1. It’s a Matter of Perception

At her last breath, the protagonist needs to change the way she perceives life. She demonstrates her new take on life by having a different reaction to a repeated situation.

Throughout the story, show the protagonist responding the same way to similar experiences as the story unfolds. Again and again, the protagonist has the same extreme opinion. Finally, once the dust is stirred, the protagonist doesn’t respond in her typical fashion. She feels the opposite from how she did at the beginning of the story but with an equally strong conviction.

In the beginning, the protagonist loves a nice smoke. She inhales the fumes deeply. At every opportunity, the protagonist lights up. She gets angry when people tell her it’s unhealthy. In the final scene, someone ridicules her for taking a light. She throws the smoke away and gives him a hug.

Think of the big finale as the main element of the plot. Focus your motivation and storyline on the final scene. The setup of the resolution escalates your protagonist’s problems. Elevating the purpose of the ending gives the protagonist a humdinger resolution!