Writing the perfect scene – the art of creating effective Story Events

Deconstructing Story Events

By Daniel Dercksen

We all know when it happens, that magical moment when you watch a film, a stageplay or television, or read a book, and something happens that takes hold of you emotionally and completely holds you in its power for its duration – this could be one story event, or in the case of a series, a culmination of spellbinding story events that captivate you emotionally and personally.

This moment doesn’t happen by accident, it is a moment skilfully created and crafted by the writer.

A story event, also referred to as a scene, is an event out of character’s life that can evolve into a sequence of events and become whatever the writer wants it to be, and is never dull, lifeless moments of where nothing happens.

The smallest form of structure in writing is known as a beat. It is the heartbeat of a story event a pulse that is caused by an exchange of action/reaction in character behaviour; the changing patterns of human behaviour. It is also known as action points; a dramatic event that causes action, that cause an interaction and results in conflicted interaction (dramatic or comedic).

Beats build story events in films, if you are writing a novel, beats result in paragraphs that have tempo and pace. If you are writing a stage play, beats give you the rhythm of the play.

Fast paced dialogue will convey the frenetic energy of the characters; long expositional power speeches (monologues) will focus the attention on your character expressing his or her point of view and include beats to pace the tempo.

What makes a perfect story event, an ideal scenario that draws you into its magical realm?

In his bible for screenwriters, Story, screenwriting guru Robert Mc Kee states that: ‘’A film isn’t just moments of conflict or activity, personally or emotionally, witty talk or symbols. What the writer seeks are events, for an event contains all off the above and more.”

This event

  • Is caused by or affects people, thus delineating characters
  • It takes place in a setting, generating image, action and dialogue
  • It draws energy from conflict producing emotion in characters and audience alike

‘’Event’’ means change.

  • Story Events (scenes) are meaningful, not trivial. To make change meaningful it must, to begin with, happen to a character.
  • Event choices cannot be displayed randomly or indifferently; they must be composed, and to ‘’compose’’ in a story means the same thing as it does in music.

You must know your purpose states McKee

  • To express your feelings, but it becomes self-indulgent if it doesn’t result in arousing emotions in the audience.
  • To express ideas, but this risks solipsism if the audience cannot follow.

‘’A Story Event creates a meaningful change in the life situation of a character that is expressed and experienced in terms of value, and achieved through conflict.’’

To make change meaningful you must express it, and the audience must react to it, in terms of value.

’Story Values refers to the broadest sense of an idea. Values are the soul of storytelling. Ultimately our is the art of expressing to the world a perception of values.

Story Values are the universal qualities of human experience that may shift from positive to negative, or negative to positive, from one moment to the next.”

The purpose of the story event is to move the story forward. Within the body of the event, something specific happens; your characters move from point A to point B; or your story moves from point A to point B. Your story always moves forward. Even in a flashback.

For a typical film, the screenwriter will choose forty to sixty Story Events. A novelist may want more than sixty, a playwright rarely as many as forty.

‘’A Scene is an action through conflict in more or less continuous time and space that turns the value charged condition of a character’s life at least one value with a degree of perceptible significance.’’

So, how do you craft a perfect story event?

  1. Start off with your Story Outline – the story outline will outline the dramatic action in your story from start to finish, with each Story Event (scene) in a separate paragraph.  You will have between 40 to 60 Story Events if you are writing a screenplay,  more than sixty Story Events if you are writing a series or novel, and as few as 40 Story Events if you are writing a play. At this stage of the writing process the event could be as simple as:  ‘’Mary and John argue over having children.’’
  2. Now get yourself a stack of index cards and use an index card for each event.  On the front of the card you will plot your story and each Story Event, and on the back of the card you will look at your characters in each Story Event.

Although this process of constructing Story Events might seem complicated, it’s an incredibly simplistic and instinctive; a stimulating and inspirational; creative process that empowers writers to fully own their stories, what happens in the story, how the story happens, who the story happens to, and its meaningful and rewarding thematic purpose.

Just think of Story Events in films, theatre, television and books that have touched you deeply, personally and emotionally, and on closer inspection, you will see how skilfully the writer has crafted the story to give its audience and readers a ‘perfect’ and life changing experience that will last a lifetime.

TIP:  The Card Outline is an organic process and works best if you are using a pencil. It is a creative, right-brain activity that fosters constant change; if one thing changes, it affects everything else. It is also a process that allows you to strengthen your story by exploring the inner life of your story.

Elements that makes a good story event

  • Structure: The event must be structured; the event is a screenplay in miniature, it is constructed in terms of beginning, middle and end. It cannot be displayed randomly or indifferently. Story events are composed: What to include? What to exclude? To put the event before and after what?
  • Setting: Each event takes place in a specific setting that generates image, action and dialogue. You need two things in every scene, place and time.
  • Action and Dialogue: You get two kinds of story events, action-driven and dialogue-driven.
  • A chase opens Star Wars, there were car chases in Lethal Weapon, and fight scenes in Rocky. The story events in Reservoir Dogs or The Hours there were dialogue driven.  
  • Conflict: The story event is caused by or affects people and draws energy from conflict. It is an action through conflict and produces emotion in characters and the audience.

Story Outlines and Card Outlines form part of The Write Journey course.

STORY: SUBSTANCE, STRUCTURE, STYLE AND THE PRINCIPLES OF SCREENWRITING BY Robert McKee: Robert McKee’s screenwriting workshops have earned him an international reputation for inspiring novices, refining works in progress and putting major screenwriting careers back on track. Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Gloria Steinem, Julia Roberts, John Cleese and David Bowie are just a few of his celebrity alumni. Writers, producers, development executives and agents all flock to his lecture series, praising it as a mesmerizing and intense learning experience.  Add to your collection