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Part 3: Crafting Unforgettable Moments
How to write powerful scenes about your accidental mentor that transport readers into the story
As you consider writing about one of your Accidental Mentors, you might have already drafted the story you want to share. Now it’s time to take another look to see if you can strengthen the story. By taking readers into a scene where you show your mentor modeling the lesson they taught you, you can elevate your storytelling and create a more immersive experience.
In this post, I’ll explore the art of crafting compelling scenes, covering key techniques, and pitfalls to avoid.
What is a scene?
Let’s start at the beginning so we’re all on the same page. In the context of storytelling, a scene is a discrete part of the narrative that focuses on a specific event, moment, or interaction within the larger story.
The easiest way to become familiar with scenes is to watch a TV show or movie. A show almost always starts with a scene. When the cameras cut to another location and/or characters, it transports you into another scene. Stop the video at the point when it switches scenes and rewind to the beginning.
When you watch the scene a second time, look for these common characteristics of a scene and then answer the listed questions about your story.
Location and Time: A scene typically takes place in a specific location and at a particular time. It provides a sense of setting, allowing viewers/readers to visualize where and when the events are occurring. Where and when is your scene taking place?
Characters: Scenes involve characters. In this case, you and your mentor might be the characters, or maybe it’s about you observing your mentor interacting with others. The actions and dialogue you write drive the scene's narrative. Who are the characters in your scene?
Conflict or Purpose: In a larger story, a scene often serves a specific purpose to advance the plot, develop characters, reveal important information, create tension, or convey emotions. Conflict or tension is a common element within a scene, as it keeps readers engaged. In a micro-story like the one you’re crafting for Accidental Mentors, a scene’s purpose can be used to demonstrate the lesson your mentor taught you. Is the conflict or purpose of your scene clear?
Emotion and Atmosphere: Scenes are often characterized by the emotional tone they transmit. They can be filled with joy, sorrow, suspense, anger, or any other emotion. You can create atmosphere within the scene through sensory details, dialogue, and description. Both contribute to this emotional impact. What emotion or atmosphere are you trying to express?
Sensory Details: Effective scenes engage the reader's or viewer's senses. Descriptions of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures help create a vivid and immersive experience. Have you incorporated sensory details that contribute to the emotional and atmosphere of your scene? (For more about sensory details, see Part 2: Write two dimensions into three with sensory details of my Story Craft series.
Beginning, Middle, and End: A scene usually has a clear beginning, middle, and end. It starts with an introduction of characters and setting, develops through the conflict or purpose, and concludes with a resolution or transition to the next scene. Don’t be afraid though to jump into the middle of the action and then take a step back. That’s where the artistry of crafting a scene happens. What’s your scene’s beginning, middle, and end?
Transitions: Scenes are connected to one another through transitions. These transitions can be smooth or abrupt, depending on the narrative style and the story's pacing. They help maintain the story's coherence and flow. In a short piece like the one you’re writing, you might not have more than one scene. If so, transitions aren’t necessary. If you do have multiple scenes, be sure to connect them in some way.
Point of View: Scenes can be presented from a specific character's point of view, giving readers insight into that character's thoughts, feelings, and perspective. Alternatively, scenes can have an omniscient narrator or a more objective viewpoint. Memoir is generally written from a 1st person point of view—typically, you are the narrator telling the story—but, as the writer, you have to decide if that’s right for your story.
The reader should feel as though every scene has purpose, deepens character, drives the story forward, and ends in such a way that they just have to know what happens next.
The faster you can bring the reader into the action, the more engaged they become in the story. Use dialogue, action, and character interaction to set up the conflict that communicates your message.
A scene does not have to be long. In many cases, you can say all you need to say in four or five sentences. Here’s an example of a slightly longer scene from my Accidental Mentors post about my wife, Wendy:
I don’t remember why I called her, but I remember the enthusiasm of her greeting catching me by surprise. After all, it was morning, and I’m not a morning person. She undeniably is.
“Guess what?” She asked without waiting for me to reply. “It’s WCVE’s (now VPM) member drive! I get to donate!”
“What?” I asked, certain I’d misheard her. Who in their right mind is enthusiastic about a public media station’s annoying member drive?
“Yeah, I’m calling in to make a pledge and challenging other librarians to donate. It’s so exciting!” she explained. “I gotta go now so I can call in before I get to school!”
I stood in our kitchen dumbfounded. Who is this woman? Is she for real?
What does this scene show you about who Wendy is? What does it show you about the narrator?
Pitfalls to Avoid
In the quest to write effective scenes, be mindful of common pitfalls that can hinder your storytelling:
Overloading with Detail: Find a balance between vivid descriptions and excessive details. Keep the scene moving. Remember the adage, “Show. Don’t tell.”
Exaggeration or Fictionalization: Although it can be tempting to add fictional details, avoid embellishing or inventing events to make your story more dramatic. My writing mentor, Anne-Marie, teaches that it’s generally OK to include “likely details,” but it’s usually best to identify them as such. For example, you might write,
I don’t remember what the weather was like that day, but since it was a December day in Michigan, I can imagine the gunmetal gray sky and the chill reddening my cheeks.
Lack of Emotional Depth: Think about the emotion(s) you want the reader to feel as they read the scene and then include dialogue and details that help them feel that emotion with you.
One-Sided Portrayals: Although Accidental Mentors is designed to contain inspirational stories, try not to make your mentor sound too angelic or readers won’t be able to relate to them. Inspiration requires connection, so keep it genuine with a tilt toward her positive attributes.
Forgetting the Larger Narrative: As you write a scene, make sure it contributes to the message you’re trying to convey. Scenes should add to the story by showing your mentor in their element.
I hope I’ve given you some more things to think about that will help you play with crafting a scene to help you tell the story. If you’re new to writing scenes, don’t let the craft overwhelm you. You’ll get better at it with practice. In the meantime, write from your heart and you’ll get your message across.
And most importantly, have fun!
Next week, in the final installment of Accidental Mentors Story Craft, we’ll focus on revision techniques that will strengthen your writing and make sure it says exactly what you want it to say.
Each Thursday between September 28 and October 12, 2023, I’ll publish a post designed to give you some tips to help you craft your own stories. Here are the topics I’ll cover:
Oct 12 - Part 4: Revise, revise, revise to make it your best work
By the end, I hope to receive a flood of submissions from you. If you feel ready, please feel free to submit sooner than that. Submissions are open now:
Have a joy-filled week,
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