Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Scene Should Be Seen... Part 1: Characters

Christy here. Did you read my title, "A Scene Should Be Seen" and do you understand what that means? All you writers out there should.

Today I want to talk about the purpose of a scene. We all enjoy good scenes. Both the creators of the scene and the buyers of the scene. Whether we're reading or watching the scene play out on television or the big screen, the scene is selling the story. It makes it believable.

Yesterday, I had the distinct privilege of attending Debra Dixon's Workshop - Book In A Day and it starred her popular book, one I wouldn't want to be without, GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict.

From Ms. Dixon's book, a scene is defined as: "...action. A scene happens."
Three reasons for a scene: (I learned in the book above and again in the workshop yesterday) should be goal, motivation, or conflict.


You may think this is a DUH! issue, but for some of us, we sprout seeds of these scenes in our mind and plant them on the page and later find they're flat. We sit back, read the scene over and over and wonder why. I realized my problem was a lot of my scenes were just "there." A nice exchange between father and son but the character's weren't learning anything. They weren't going anywhere. Nothing was being accomplished. My scene went from being in "Drive" to "Neutral."

While in the workshop yesterday, I started jotting down notes about my own plot and I realized I needed to layer the scenes I already had with GMC.

I thought I had established GMC in my story, but my problem was the GMC wasn't strong enough for one of my characters. As Jennifer pointed out in her post on Saturday, she had to do a character sketch where she learned more about her characters. I'll bet the things she discovered were there all along, she just hadn't reached that inner surface.

When we successfully reach that surface of our character's lives - we understand where they've been and where they're going and why - our scenes suddenly jump off the page!

My goal for this week is to sit down with my characters and sketch them. Where have they been? What has happened to them which leads them to where they are when my story opens? What is their occupation? Is that what they really want to do?

I've changed this story so much in the last five years, I'm not even sure what my characters want!

Where will the character be at the end of the story? Asking this question will help me know how to get them there and what problems that may make getting there even harder!

Secondary characters are just as important although their time on scene will be shorter than the main character. I will analyze my secondary characters role. Each character has their own GMC. I learned I was forcing a role of one of my secondary characters - I wanted this character to have a voice, when really, she should only serve as a mentor. Her role as mentor was to offer advice to my character and not make a decision for the main character but propel them toward the choices he had to make. The mentor's influence can also cause conflict. What gets me excited is when the mentor doesn't even mean to cause conflict, because she has the main character's best interests at heart. Or does she? Ah, what a wonderful tale we can weave!

It's complicated and deep and this is the stuff that helps our character's jump off the page and it makes a scene be seen.


  1. From what I've heard, that was an outstanding workshop. I can't wait to see where it leads you, Christy!

  2. It was a great workshop. A lot of information. Some I've heard before but it doesn't hurt to be reminded....She also had us write an agenda at the beginning of what we wanted to accomplish that day. It was very cool and I got out of it all that was on my list.
    Yeah!! Deb is a great teacher.

  3. I loved the refresher workshop! (I taken a few of hers in previous years).

    Christy, I think you'll enjoy exploring your characters--especially if you've been working on the book for a while. It'll help remind you of why you wanted to write about them in the first place! :) I always type up a journal for each of my main characters. It includes major childhood events and goes up til the story starts. I do it in first person. It's always so fun. On the current proposal, for my heroine, I have about 9 pages single spaced. When I finished writing it, I was so ready to jump right in on the chapters to see what would happen next! :)

    The hero is a little less clear to me right now. His journal didn't help me so much. I need to work next on his GMC chart.

    Great post! And I enjoyed seeing you this weekend.

  4. Thanks, Missy.
    That journal is sounding better and better to me at this point. I think by the time I finish a sketch of the character - that's what I'll have!

    Good seeing you & Lindi! You guys saved me a stellar seat!! I appreciate it!

  5. Lindi, I totally missed writing down the goal at the beginning :)
    But I definitely learned something.

  6. Thanks Mindy. I hope it leads me through a SUCCESSFUL & interesting story, and - THE END!