Last time I spoke about one of the most essential elements of writing in terms of character – agency. This time I’m going to talk a little about one of the most essential aspects in scene construction – the turn.
When we look at a scene, there are many aspects we can examine to make sure it’s doing a dramatic job. Drama – that’s what this is all about. It turns a story into an engaging experience. Drama is what brings us right into a story. It’s what makes us want to keep turning the pages. If there’s no drama in your story people are just going to put it down.
The one with the biggest impact on your story is what’s called: the turn of the scene.
While I was doing my MA, I was lucky enough to have Fay Weldon as my manuscript supervisor who introduced me to this concept. She did a lot of television writing while she was starting out. When the producers looked at her work they would sometimes tear out complete scenes from the teleplay because there was no turn.
So what is the turn?
The turn of the scene is a palpable reversal in emotion and/or events (read as internal and external arc) which takes place between the start and the end of the scene.
So if Fred found the magic coin at the end of the last scene, in this scene he must suffer some kind of setback.
Likewise, if he lost his gun over the edge of a cliff last scene, then in the next something positive must occur.
Those are the external arc factors we’re all aware of – but what about the internal ones?
It can be as simple as a transition from happy to sad, uncertain to confident and visa versa, but also shifts involving the psychological state of the character with where they are in their internal arc.
So if in the first scene, Fred, who’s a solitary animal with trust issues, refuses to accept help with his entry into the cake competition and loses, in the next scene he’s going to have to face up to it and reprocess (usually at the hands of an ally who is there to challenge him on his flaws).
Likewise, if he makes some progress and does go out to the pub with his mates, in the next scene one of them will have to do something to make him question it again.
So back to Fay Weldon, why did the producer rip out those scenes? Because scenes without a turn are flat. They do nothing to move the story forward. The producer felt they weren’t worth spending the money on filming.
Well, that’s a little primer on the turn. It has to happen in every scene or expect some serious rippage from your editor.
For now, go write!