Writing Scenes – Three Story Method by J. Thorn
Review by Jessica Brown, Screenwriter and Board Member of Phoenix Screenwriters Association
Back to the scene of the crime….
I know we’ve talked about writing good scenes before with various books. Bear with me as we talk about scene writing again as this topic seems to come up a lot with writers, whether it be novel or screenplays, newbie or seasoned writer.
Scenes are the very foundation of a great story. And when we know how to write a great scene over and over, we end up with a great story. So let’s take the challenge, again…..
Challenge: Understand what components are needed and how to build a great scene.
- Writing Scenes for Screenplays by Wallace Wang
- Writing Scenes: Three Story Method by J. Thorn
- SceneWriting: The Manual for Screenwriters by Chris Perry and Eric Henry Sanders
- Coffee Break Screenwriter Second Edition by Pilar Alessandra
Writing Scenes for Screenplays: This tool is great for understanding the Science of Scene Structure. The author’s POV on scene writing is to “make every moment in your scenes count, every second to entice, captivate, and seduce the audience.” The elements of great scene writing are the same for every scene. To move the story forward, each scene needs to:
- Introduce something new
- Show us a problem
- Show conflict
- Set up and foreshadow the future
- Create unanswered questions
This is a great checklist to keep in front of you to ask yourself when crafting and drafting a scene whether for a script or novel. I use this quick hit list myself and can spot trouble in my scenes if they don’t meet this list. The author provides wonderful examples from popular movies to show how their scenes fulfill this checklist.
One of my favorite tools in this book is to ensure the scene has a change in it. The Movie Rocky is a great example of change in the character. “At the beginning of the scene, Rocky seems to be losing. At the end of the scene, Rocky has won. If you don’t show any change, you don’t have a scene.”
Now, the scene is more complex, but the high level overview of that scene is simple and when you are going through your scenes and you don’t see any change, then rewrite the scene to show change, or cut the scene.
Also, remember “not only must a scene demonstrate change, but it must also demonstrate conflict and a goal of some kind.”
The book is filled with quick exercises and examples in all genres to show you how to execute each of these components to craft an amazing scene.
Writing Scenes: This book is based on the popular Three Story Method, with the focus on Writing Scenes. This author believes the foundation of every scene is built on the 3 C’s:
- Consequences of their choice
The author answers the most common questions about scenes:
- What makes a compelling scene?
- Is there a sweet spot for scene length?
- How do I create gravitas in my scenes?
- How do I know if my scene is necessary?
- Why are scenes so important?
- How will I know if I’m getting better at scenes?
- Will I always have to use a scene worksheet for every scene I write, for the rest of my life?
Pick your question and you will get the answer in the book.
The author’s process is to approach each scene by first getting “Just the facts” description of what is happening in the scene:
- What are the characters doing?
- Who are they?
- Where are they?
Frame your scene first. Then examine the importance of a scene. What am I trying to say about life? If a scene isn’t important to the story, why is it there?
The book is full of critical questions to ask yourself about your scenes such as:
- Make sure every scene serves a function.
- Use scenes to advance the plot or reveal character.
- If you focus on theme, make it an argument instead of a topic.
SceneWriting: This popular book on writing scenes is so easy to use and well organized. It makes locating what you are struggling with quick to find, read, and then put into practice.
I go to the Table of Contents and identify what information is needed to write my scene. The titles of the chapters are in logical order of developing a scene. For Example:
Part 1 Planning
- What do they want and why?
- Why can’t they have it?
- What are they gonna do about it?
- Where and when is it gonna happen?
Part 2 Drafting
- The Fundamental Tools of Scene-writing
- The Art of Reader Engagement
- The Unformatted Draft
- Formatting for Fun and Profit
Part 3 Perfecting
- Check Your Length
- Managing Scene Information in Dialogue
- Bringing Authenticity into Your Dialogue
- Final Polish
Each of the chapters give you exercises and examples along with a detailed explanation on how to execute on that specific scene writing tool. It is a great resource to keep on your laptop desktop or Kindle app or the physical book on your desk to always reference and use no matter if you are writing a first draft or a rewrite.
Coffee Break Screenwriter: I reference this book over and over again throughout the years because it has so much useful information no matter what writing challenge you are facing. Be sure to get the Second Edition as the author added some great new material.
I chose this book again to highlight the various chapters on scene writing which are brilliant when it comes to crafting scenes. My favorite sub-chapters are:
- The Scene Pass
- Scene Transitions
- Scene Intentions
- Scene-Trim Edit
- Within the Scene Pass section, the author has her own list of questions to ask yourself. These work well for the rewrite pass as well as first draft developing phase.
- Here are the questions:
- Is the scene giving new information?
- Is the scene covering a new emotion?
- Is the scene holding a sequence together?
- Does the scene contain a memorable set piece that also drives story?
- Does the scene give the audience new insight?
- Is the scene in the right place?
- Does the scene work around its main intentions?
- Does the scene tell its own story?
- The author also shares how to achieve a fresh take on your scenes and is in her opinion, one of the best rewrites that you can make if you are asking these questions of a scene that needs to be rewritten.
- One of my absolute favorite exercises she takes you through has been a tried and true method for me when trying to elevate a boring scene. In this exercise she has you write out the “laundry list” of the scene. for example:
- Character wakes up and turns off alarm
- Character gets ready for work
- Character takes the subway to work
- Character arrives at work
- Now add in an obstacle into each of these descriptions that is genre worthy. So if we were writing perhaps an adventure story these scene beats might go like this:
- Character sleeps in because her alarm clock doesn’t go off because a monkey has turned it off.
- Character races to get dressed and tries to shoo the monkey out of her apartment while also trying to retrieve her alarm clock from his hands.
- Character rides the subway to work only to have the subway overtaken by a marching band practice on their way to a big competition.
- Character arrives at work and discovers the electricity has gone out and she will have to walk up to her 12th floor office. During the long climb a water line breaks and showers her with water.
- I love this exercise because it allows you to get the mundane out of the way and build from there.
So you can add these four amazing resources to your writer’s toolbox and tackle your current or next project with some wonderful ways to take your scenes from boring to Great!
This is FADE OUT for me for 2023. Thank you for hanging out with me and I hope the tools I shared with you this year help you write better characters, loglines, story structures and scenes. Bev will write the final article in December for this year. I can’t wait to see what she does.
Next year I am going to write about the Masters of writing. I am excited to share their books and viewpoints on how to create great works of art using their methods. I hope you will join me throughout the year.
Until next year, have a great writing season and hope you get time to enjoy family and friends. I will see you next year in 2024.
Feel free to drop me a line if you have time and share your writing adventures. I always love a good story. You can reach me at email@example.com.