©2010 by Jack Remick and Robert J Ray

Use the scene checklist to get a handle on the structure and content of your scenes. Work down the list to the Detail questions for scenes, then down to the scene template. Chapters and scenes go together so have a look at Chapter and Scene then come back here.

1. Setting: Is the setting clear? Are there details about the setting? Are there objects on-stage?

2. Character Description: Is one character clearly described with significant detail?

3. Action: What is the action chain in this scene? Does the action connect the beginning to the end?

4. Dialogue: Are the voices distinct? Which character is passive, which character is aggressive?

5. Intruder: Who is the intruder in the scene? What does the intruder want?

6. Complication: How does the secret complicate the scene? What is the complication? Which character is vulnerable? Which character has control?

7. Climax: Is the climax clear? What is the big action at the climax? What object is handled at the climax?

8. Resolution: How does the scene end?

9. Conflict: Is each character’s agenda clear?

10. Plot tracks: How many plot tracks are working in the scene? Is there a plot track on an object? An action? A symbol?

11. Wound: Are the characters talking about their wounds? Is one character trying to discover the wound of the other?

12. Subtext: What emotion is buried under the dialogue? Is the subtext brought out at the climax?

13. Resource Base: What is the Resource Base and how does it connect to the conflict between/among the characters?

14. Connections: How are the characters connected to one another? A common heritage? Marriage? Common goal?

15. Power: Who has the power in this scene? Does the power shift as the scene develops?

16. Structure: Does the scene have a clear beginning, middle, and end? Does the scene climax or just run out with no climax?

17. Hook: Is there a hook to the next scene? Does the ending point to the next scene clearly?

Details for a Scene Checklist

— Where are we? On the beach? At home? In bed? In an airport departure

lounge, puffing a Virginia Slims?

— What time is it? Night? Day?

— Can we see a dashboard clock? A classroom clock? A clock on the mirror behind the bar? A wristwatch? A pocket watch?

— What’s the season? Spring? Summer? Winter? Fall? Are there dead leaves glutting the gutters? Kids on skates? Does a hot sun boil down? Is it snowing? Are the snowflakes cold on the reader’s neck?

— How big is the stage? A sidewalk on Balboa? An amphitheatre? A mushroom? A bathtub? A piece of paper? An airplane passenger cabin? A jungle? A cave? A garden in bloom? A racing BMW?

— Who’s onstage? Two lovers in bed? Two parents discussing their dopehead teenage kid? Two killers? A victim? A president? A candidate for president?

— Who’s coming onstage?

— Who’s leaving the stage?

— Who’s talking? What’s the subject? Politics? Murder? Crime in the streets? Bridge scores? How to move a chessman? Money? Gambling? Dying for Dollars? Insurance scams?

— Where’s the POV? Protagonist? Victim? Society? A killer with a gun? A preacher about to be shot? The preacher’s wife? The preacher’s girl-friend, watching on TV? The preacher’s teen-age pothead daughter? Loony Benjy Compson? Moby Dick?

— What’s the motivation for the characters? What do they want? Love? Money? An end to isolation? An end to frustration? Power? Control? Security?

— How much do they want it? Enough to kill? Enough to declare war? Enough to pick up a phone and say “I love you?” Enough to leave without saying goodbye?

— Has the author made it easy for the reader by setting up recognizable archetypes? Where’s the Hero? Where’s the Heroine? Where’s the Victim? The Villain? The Clown?

— Who is onstage for the reader to like? To identify with?

— Who is onstage for the reader to detest? To hate?

— Is the style easy to read? What’s the ratio of nouns to verbs to adjectives?

— Are there any laughs?

— Where does this scene fit in the structure of the work?

Template for a scene

The parts of a full scene from setting to curtain line

  • Stage Setup:
    Time:
    Temperature:
    Place:
    Season:
    Lighting:
    Props:
    People Onstage:
    People Exiting:
    Dialogue:
    Action:
    Intruder:
    Climax:
    Curtain line:

(Examples of Props: Rain, Pickup, Van, Trailer Truck, Pale Grass, Darkened Look, Dashboard, Brakes, Tunnel, Motorcycle, Field, Wiper Blades, Parked Cars, Gully, Marbled Windshield, Texaco Station.)

Exercises

1. Work out a stage setup on a room, something outside your character’s house or place of business.

2. Do a car interior. Include smells. Start the car moving. Keep describing. Add a voice, someone asking a question.

Write dialogue for three minutes. Don’t use He said, She said. Try to get character voice going.

Use timed writing to sketch out a scene using the following template.

Scene Sketch: write for four minutes on each element–

  • Stage Setup–It was three o’clock…
  • time/place–The cafe was dark…
  • temperature/season–He kicked the snow off his boots…
  • lighting/sounds/smells–He smelled bacon and coffee… (this fixes the Point of View)
  • symbols/images–At the end of the counter….
  • Characters/relationships: Jill, the waitress with red frizzy hair was talking to…
  • Dialogue–I told him…
  • Action–The door opened and…
  • Climax– Jill screamed and hurled the pot of coffee…
  • Curtain line–He dropped a buck on the counter and…