Scene Types: Part 1

Introduction

In the fourth episode of the Story Grid Masterwork Experiment podcast, Shawn introduced a new concept: Scene Types.

He tells us that scenes come in two flavors, which he termed the editor’s scene and the writer’s scene.

The first flavor is familiar to all of us who study the Story Grid method. It includes the 15 Core Scenes as well as the obligatory scenes and conventions of each genre. They’re the “grammar” of Story Grid: analytical tools that really come into their own during the editing process. 

In this article, we dig into that second flavor. We define some terms and then identify a handful of common Writer’s Scene Types. Once we started to spot them, we couldn’t stop!

Our working theory is that once we have access to a whole toolbox full of Writer’s Scene Types, we’ll be able to write a better story faster.

In forthcoming articles we’ll go more deeply into the practical application of Writer’s Scene Types. For now, let’s get started on this whole new Story Grid topic by understanding what a Writer’s Scene Type is, then looking at a variety of examples.

For purposes of this and future articles on the subject, we’re calling them simply “Scene Types.”

Definition of Terms

Here in the Story Grid Universe, the word “scene” gets tossed around a lot. We had to begin our journey of discovery by defining this new use of the word “scene” in the phrase “Writer’s Scene Types.”

Scene Types: What They Aren’t

To be clear, when we talk about Scene Types, we are not talking about:

  • Obligatory scenes of a genre. For example, the “Lovers Meet” obligatory scene of Love stories, or the “Hero at the Mercy of the Villain” scene in Action and Thriller stories.
  • Genre conventions. For example, the “Love triangle” convention of the Love story, and “Hero, victim, villain” convention of the Action story.
  • The 15 Core Scenes required of every story: that is, the Inciting Incident, Turning Point, Crisis, Climax and Resolution scenes of the beginning hook, middle build, and ending payoff.

On a recent episode of the Story Grid Podcast, Shawn called the above group of scenes “Editor’s Scenes,” because whether we’re plotters who build them in before we ever start writing, or pantsers who address them during revisions, they are at the heart of story structure, and building a solid story structure falls more to our left-brained editor side than to our right-brained creative writer side.

Scene Types: What They Are

On the other hand, Scene Types are the setups or scenarios that help spark our creativity as writers. They’re prompts we can use to innovate and solve problems with must-haves of a story. Broadly speaking, the Scene Type is a description of our global thinking, as storytellers, about what needs to happen in a given scene.

Those of us who learn best through metaphor and analogy can think of a Scene Type as a container. What we pour into the container might be an obligatory scene or convention of our genre, one of our 15 Core Scenes, or some transitional story material in between.

The Scene Types, like the jars in the image above, have different shapes and sizes—different characteristics and purposes. No Scene Type is likely to be an all-purpose container. Some might be better for setting up the protagonist’s ordinary life. Some seem like obvious containers for a revelatory turning point. Some are likely candidates for delivering a global inciting incident, and some are more clearly useful as resolutions.

The Scene Types we choose for shaping our stories can make or break the narrative drive, characterization, conflict, and overall reader engagement.


A Survey of Familiar Scene Types

We began our research by with some specific Scene Types that Shawn first introduced in our editor training course in 2017: Stranger Knocks on the Door, Friends Having Coffee, Conversation Over a Meal, Conversation in a Car.

It took a while to develop the knack of seeing these Scene Types in the midst of a wide variety of stories, but once we started looking, dozens of Scene Types began to appear under this new lens. 

Shawn has said, “The environment the characters are in can either distract them from the conflict of the scene, or be used to enhance the conflict.” So as we studied the following Scene Type examples, we tried to discover the role of conflict avoidance and conflict enhancement in each one.


Stranger Knocks on the Door

The name of this Scene Type is usually literal, with variations for, say, ringing a doorbell or battering the door down. Its key element is an actual door separating the stranger from the protagonist, so that the only way to find out who’s there is to open the door. Sometimes a gatekeeper such as a servant intervenes.

Example 1: Rocky

(the first 10 seconds of the clip are blurred)

It’s not really a stranger at the door in this case, but a Mentor figure who has become estranged.

Conflict enhancement and avoidance: The old Mentor figure aggressively tries to convince the protagonist that he needs him in order to have a chance at his goal, while the protagonist parries, avoids, and denies.

Example 2: Double Indemnity

Here, it’s the protagonist knocking at the door of a stranger, but similar dynamics apply.

Conflict enhancement and avoidance: While there’s little conflict between the two principal characters, the gatekeeper character creates a barrier by trying to refuse admittance. The protagonist avoids conflict by simply ignoring her.

Example 3: Breaking Bad

Here again, it’s not really a stranger, but a known entity—in fact, the protagonist—who’s been shut out. Interestingly, the door itself plays a part in the conflict.

Conflict enhancement and avoidance: The protagonist’s banging on the door creates the conflict. The gatekeeper character ignores it. The protagonist escalates the conflict by breaking in. The gatekeeper defies him and raises the stakes until he backs down.


Friends Having Coffee

The experience of sitting down over beverages with old, new, or soon-to-be friends is an almost universal human experience, so of course a popular and evergreen Scene Type in stories of all sorts is Friends Having Coffee.

Note that “coffee” is the more American take, but of course it can be tea, soft drinks, milkshakes—whatever. Alcohol is different, and we’ll get to that next.

This Scene Type isn’t really about the coffee or the coffee-shop, so it’s a mistake to insert it into a story simply because it’s time for our characters to have some caffeine.

This first example is fairly obvious, and it works so well that they built an entire television series around it. It’s an ensemble piece and is an excellent way to have a group of characters interacting with one another.

Example 1: Friends

The coffee shop where the six Friends meet is practically a character in the show. It provides a setting where the characters can deliver dialogue-as-exposition in an organic way, demonstrate their traits, and tell parts of the story that happened outside the setting.

Conflict enhancement and avoidance: One character actively expresses inner conflict while another actively denies it.

Example 2: Thor

Here the friends are not quite friends yet, and the presence of both food and coffee serves to highlight cultural, social, or class differences between the characters. The food adds a Meal element, which is a Scene Type of its own that we’ll look at in a moment.

Conflict Enhancement and Avoidance: One character actively creates conflict by unknowingly breaking social rules, while another actively tries to suppress that conflict by creating another—scolding the first character for his actions.

If your scene has only two characters, the dynamic changes. It would probably look more like this scene from Gilmore Girls.

Example 3: Gilmore Girls

In this example, the coffee itself actually does play a role, giving the characters fodder for what appears to be a flirtation. No third party is present to witness, interrupt, or judge the conversation, so this variation leans more strongly towards intimacy.

Conflict enhancement: it’s slight, but it works: a humorous argument over the meaning of “café au lait” gives the two characters grounds to get to know each other better.


Conversation Over Drinks

Now if we were to change the coffee to wine or spirits, Friends Having Coffee suddenly becomes a Conversation Over Drinks. Why would we make that switch?

A Conversation Over Drinks can be dramatically different from Friends Having Coffee—we might say “as different as night and day.” We associate coffee and tea with morning, and alcohol with evening. While coffee and tea tend to quicken speech and even sharpen anxiety, alcohol is an adults-only beverage that slows reactions and relaxes inhibitions, promoting greater intimacy, but also increasing certain dangers.

Example: Kramer vs Kramer

In this scene the alcohol doesn’t have time to take effect, but notice how the wife’s choice to meet over drinks creates a soft, intimate, date-like tone that misleads the husband and provides sharp contrast to his angry reaction.

Conflict Enhancement and Avoidance: The wife tiptoes delicately toward what she has to say, allowing the the husband’s misinterpretation to mount until she drops the bomb, provoking a violent reaction.

Note the unlikely similarity between this scene and the Thor scene above: each features the breaking of a glass, creating embarrassment and shock for the other character(s), one for dramatic effect, and one for comic effect. We’ll see a similar dynamic in the Meal Scene of Discomfort type below.

The Drunk Scene

If our characters in a Conversation Over Drinks scene become actually drunk, the Scene Type changes to a subtype we’re calling the Drunk Scene.

Often humorous, the Drunk Scene goes beyond the quiet intimacy of Conversation Over Drinks and removes characters’ inhibitions so that they say or do what they wouldn’t ordinarily say or do.

While alcohol is the usual source of disinhibition, of course other causes (say, alien rays or fantasy elixirs) can serve similar purposes.

Example 1: Good Omens

Conflict enhancement and avoidance: one character blurts out the truth about what’s to come while the other tries to deny it, though he knows it’s true.

Example 2: Tombstone

Though far more serious than the previous scene, this one also contains a comic element. Note, too, the power-play variant where only one character is probably pretending to be drunker than he is.

Conflict enhancement and avoidance: The unwell protagonist repeatedly raises then lowers the tension until his own life is at stake, before using his (supposed) drunkenness to comically defuse the situation.


The Conversation In Motion

Whether characters are walking, on horseback, driving a car, or riding in a vehicle, the uniting element of this Scene Type is motion while characters are delivering what would otherwise be static talking-head dialogue. There are two main subtypes, the Drive (or Ride) and Talk, and the Walk and Talk.

The Drive (or Ride) and Talk

In a conveyance of some kind, the Conversation in Motion Scene Type adds more than just motion. It can reveal characters’ social status through the quality of the car or carriage they’re in. It can establish a setting as they pass through a landscape. It can build tension because characters can’t easily get out of a moving vehicle. 

Example: Sense and Sensibility (forward to 2:11)

The Drive-or-Ride and Talk part begins at 2:11

Here the characters start a fairly statis conversation in a room, then continue it on and off in a carriage. It has the effect of making the husband a captive audience while also revealing a lot about the historical and social setting of the story.

Conflict enhancement and avoidance: The wife subtly but aggressively pushes her agenda on the unwilling husband, who feebly parries until she has changed his mind completely.

The Walk and Talk

The Walk and Talk subtype differs from the Drive or Ride and Talk by adding physical exertion—possibly to compare characters’ fitness or their relationship to the environment. It slows down the passing scenery and can expose characters to weather, hazards, and distractions that a vehicle would protect them from; and it gives characters more opportunity to exit the conversation.

Example 1: The West Wing

Conflict enhancement and avoidance: in every piece of the conversation someone questions someone else’s choices, while the other person defends, explains, or avoids the attack. 

This particular Walk and Talk scene is a piece of filmmaking virtuosity by Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, and would be extremely difficult to render clearly in prose, but a Walk and Talk scene doesn’t have to be so complex or large to work.

Example 2: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

More like a Run-and-Talk, this on-foot first encounter specifically serves to play up physical differences between a superhero and more ordinary mortal. Notice the monumental setting in a place of power, which sets the tone of the story.

Conflict enhancement and avoidance: The superhero politely provokes the ordinary mortal by passing him several times. The ordinary guy shows comic irritation. His sense of humor and the superhero’s politeness resolve the conflict in a new friendship.


Meal Scenes

You’ve seen a thousand of these. Just as people in real life need to meet each other, apply for jobs, socialize over beverages, and move from place to place, so they also need to eat. 

But we don’t write a meal scene—or any other Scene Type—just because “at this point in the story, they’d be hungry.” By that reasoning, we might as well include going-to-the-bathroom scenes, scenes of characters asleep, or descriptions of the long drive from point A to point B.

No, the Meal Scene, like all Scene Types, must serve a story purpose. We’ve identified two principal categories of Meal Scene: Meal Scene of Dominance and Meal Scene of Discomfort; and one minor type: Meal Scene of Celebrating Too Soon. While all of them involve people eating, note that none of them are fundamentally about people eating, or about the food. 

Meal Scene of Dominance

This Scene Type lets us create tension by pitting characters—typically two of them—against each other in a highly civilized environment where their choice of acceptable actions and reactions is limited by social convention.

Once you see it you’ll never look at a two-person meal scene the same way again: in a surprising number of cases, one character eats while the other refrains.

Example 1: Primal Fear (Warning: strong language)

In this example the older character, the villain, shows dominance by eating heartily in front of the younger protagonist while praising himself. The protagonist attempts to show dominance by refraining from eating (as if to show that the need to eat is a weakness). Not eating also makes it easier for him to walk out of the restaurant.

Conflict enhancement and avoidance: The villain pretends that there is no conflict and that this is a social occasion, until the protagonist forces the conflict into the open.

Example 2: Supernatural

See it again? One character eats, one doesn’t. Here, an omnipotent non-human character demonstrates dominance by offering food to the human character, who is afraid to eat it and afraid to offend by not eating it.

Conflict enhancement and avoidance: The non-human character subverts the human character’s expectations of conflict by offering instead to negotiate (at which point they both normalize the situation by eating together).

Meal Scene of Discomfort

The family dinner table is a setting fraught with social mores. We set a scene there in order to limit what it’s appropriate for characters to say or do. We can use manners, table settings, and the food itself to reveal social differences, and build tension by restricting a character’s ability to leave.

Unlike a conversation in a moving vehicle, in this Scene Type the constraint against leaving is social and internal rather than physical.

Like the Friends Having Coffee scene, a Meal Scene of Discomfort is a well-established way to have characters deliver exposition in dialogue, reveal their attitudes and traits, and show the social and class setting in which they operate.

Unlike the coffee scene, this one tends to focus on the discomfort, testing the reserve of the uncomfortable characters and the boldness of those breaking the “rules.”

Example 1: Grace and Frankie (a bit of strong language)


The only clip we could find of this exact scene is embedded in someone’s Twitter feed. We’ll hunt for a better one

While not technically the family dinner table, the restaurant dinner with two very close couples here fills a similar function.

One wife specifically calls out the social restrictions inherent in this Scene Type: that there is subterfuge and dominance involved in holding a difficult conversation in a restaurant, where the expectation is that everyone will keep a lid on their emotions for the sake of appearances.

Conflict enhancement and avoidance: The husbands’ choice to reveal their secret in a public place is clear conflict avoidance. The wife cranks the conflict up to eleven when she breaks the rules and creates a scene.

Example 2: Supernatural

Instead of a public place, here we have guests at someone else’s family dinner table. The norms of one family (the woman and her daughters) go wildly against the norms of the other (the men).

Conflict enhancement and avoidance: The girls don’t care who they make uncomfortable. The mother tries to mediate two conflicts—between the daughters, and between the daughters and the guests. The men are comically conflict-averse.

Meal Scene of Celebrating Too Soon

A third, more minor Meal Scene Type is one we might call Celebrating Too Soon, where any conflict at the table is restricted to harmless banter, and instead we have an air of genuine conviviality or celebration at the end of some challenge. This subtype creates a sense of peace or resolution, only to give way to a shocking event. 

Here’s one famous example:

Example: Alien


Summary and What’s Next

We’ve identified some common Scene Types:

  • Stranger Knocks on the Door
  • Coffee With Friends
  • Conversation over Drinks
    • Drunk Scene subtype
  • Conversation While Moving
    • Walk-and-Talk subtype
    • Driving/riding subtype
  • Meal
    • Dominance subtype 
    • Discomfort subtype 
    • Celebrating Too Soon subtype

In our next post, we’ll continue to expand the list as we dig into practical applications. 

First we’ll experiment by casting a particular obligatory scene into some different Scene Types, the way a Plotter or an Outliner would do.

Then we’ll try changing the Scene Types in Valerie’s work-in-progress to discover whether it improves her story. (Spoiler: it does.)

There are many, many more Scene Types than we’ve discussed here, and we’re compiling them into a Scene Type database as we discover them. Our aim is to build a kind of grab-bag of possibilities that we can all reach into to stimulate our writerly imagination, either while planning or revising our stories.

Can you think of other Scene Types with examples from novels, movies, or television? You can help build the database by letting us know in the comments.


Special thanks to Rachelle Ramirez, who gave us a lot of editorial support.

About the Author

Anne Hawley is the author of Restraint, a love story set in 19th Century London. A third-generation native Oregonian and graduate of Portland State University, when she's not editing stories, she's writing them, reading them, researching them, or podcasting about them. She specializes in helping writers discover the heart of the story they’re trying to tell so that they can tell it more beautifully. She can often be seen riding her Dutch bike Eleanor around Portland.
Comments (20)
Author Anne Hawley

20 Comments

Jonathan Berman says:

I’ve said this before, but the breadth and depth of the work you all do is astounding, and so much appreciated. It’s something I feel I should comment on after every post.

Reply
Xina Marie Uhl says:

Mind. Blown.

*gibbers*

I only sorta kinda understand this, but it’s very exciting. I’m trying to grasp the possibilities of it, but I think I need to read the article a few more times – and subsequent ones as well!

Great use of clips, too. They must have taken you forever to find. Sam and Dean at dinner was my favorite (of course).

Reply
ANNE HAWLEY says:

Hey Xina. It’s great, isn’t it? I still don’t know exactly how to use all this material, but finding examples of very similar scenes from widely disparate stories is like a new kind of story x-ray for me. In our next post, we’ll start looking at a sequence in Valerie’s WIP, where three scenes in a row began life as three “talking in a room” scenes. When she puts them in a car for the second scene, and something like a courtroom for the third, it ratchets up the narrative drive in a way that the more static scene type can’t do by itself.

Glad you liked the Dinner at Jody’s scene. It’s a favorite of mine, and a perfect example of why we’d bother writing a meal scene.

Reply
Xina Marie Uhl says:

Ooooh. Looking forward to it! So, wait – which podcast is this? Not the Editor’s Roundable, right?

Reply
ANNE HAWLEY says:

It’s part of our plan for the ongoing series of blog posts on the topic. Our earliest available posting slot is a ways in the future, but we’re hoping for a cancellation so that we can get in sooner.

Reply
Alice says:

How about these for your database? They seem to be scene types to me. I’ve blurted them out without thinking of elegant names but I think you’ll know what I mean.
• Packing [suitcase][desk contents in office][house contents into boxes]
• Difficulty sleeping (including waking up in the night)
• Lovers [being silly] on the beach (e.g. movies The Notebook, Knight of Cups, Submergence – it’s almost a love story obligatory scene)
• Solo contemplation on the [plane][train][treadmill at the gym]
• Interview or meeting [or press conference] (one on one or a larger group – two subtypes?)
• One person revealing or showing significant information or object to another person
• Receiving unexpected news [over the phone][in a letter]
• Following someone [by car][on foot] (or spying through window – subtype?)
• Communal cooking in the kitchen (I’m thinking of the scene in The Upside of Anger but there must be more)
• Cocktail party (for all sorts of intrigue and interaction)
• Looking at a view (often two characters sharing an intimate moment)
• Late to the airport
… plus arrival and departure scenes of other sorts

Reply
ANNE HAWLEY says:

I KNEW we’d get ideas!

Thanks for this great list. Here are some questions and thoughts that come to mind:

  • Packing up to leave: seems like a crisis-to-climax type of decision. In the beginning hook it would be a way to show the protag having chosen to leave their ordinary world.
  • How would you innovate on “difficulty sleeping”? Would it make a difference whether the difficulty is internal, such as anxiety or nightmares, versus external, such as noise?
  • Is solo contemplation in motion different from solo contemplation while holding still?
  • How would an interview differ from a press conference? The interviewee is lower in the hierarchy than the interviewer, whereas the press-conference giver is higher than the press…maybe?
  • Does a “following someone” scene differ from a spying-on scene? Would the difference lie in the motion or lack of motion of the person doing the spying? Is “following someone” different from an actual Chase Scene?
  • There’s a nice communal cooking scene in The Big Chill. Unlike the Meal Scene of Dominance or Discomfort, communal cooking seems most useful for showing harmony rather than discord. Could it be more like the Meal Scene of Celebrating Too Soon–a calm-before-the-storm moment?
  • How would a cocktail party differ from a “Ballroom”type scene? How does it differ from another large mixed group scene like a meeting or a conference?
  • Just some thoughts off the top of my head. So much to think about in this new topic!

Reply
Antryg says:

is solo contemplation while someone is moving, different from solo contemplation while they are still?

Yes, for normal people: anyone so advanced as to have immutable tranquility in all circumstances is so far beyond “normal” as to not be understandable to normal,
so putting that kind in a story aimed at normals makes no sense.

I am referring to the body of the person doing things,
not to whether they are in a bus/plane/ufo/whatever, obviously…

BTW, “The Hero’s Journey” is a book listing tons of different scenes,
should one want more leverage in extracting the whole lot of them from the literature…
It could have been better copy-edited, but the work is stupendously helpful
( I ignore 2 sets of examples, though:
neither dodgeball nor the other crass-values one are worth letting into my mind,
so only the other examples are worth reading.
You are what you eat! : )

This database, wherever it resides, would have to
a) compete with http://www.TVTropes.org , for completeness, &
b) be organized to facilitate easy finding of them all ( UNlike TVTropes, which is as “organized” as any wikiwikiweb. Harumph! )

Salut, Namaste, & Kaizen, eh?

( :

Reply
ANNE HAWLEY says:

If a conversation while sitting in a room is different from a conversation while walking or in a vehicle, then surely a solo contemplation differs in similar ways: moving a character through a setting adds information. It can say things about the character’s physical traits. Why are they moving? Does the movement provoke any of the contemplation? Is the character contemplating options in a high-risk situation while running from an enemy? Or are they taking a walk in the rain (which will later cause them to catch cold). There are all kinds of considerations in choosing the combination of character action, setting, and situation.

The term “scene” is a bit vague, I know, but the scenes listed in The Hero’s Journey or The Writer’s Journey fall into the category that Shawn calls the Editor’s Scene Types–structurally-required story scenes. Here we’re trying to define something more like writer’s prompts. For instance, the Hero’s Call to Adventure could come in any number of situations, or what we’re calling Scene Types here.

We don’t have any idea of competing with TVTropes, though it’s a great resource and I used it to help me find video clips to use in this post. Much of what they do there is define tropes and even clichés. There’s no hard line between those things and what we’re working to define here: it’s more of a gradual fade from one category to the other.

Reply
Vince Veselosky says:

Consider whether “Scene Type” as used here could be more precisely described. Based on the examples, I would use the word “Situation” to describe these setups. A scene begins by placing a character in a situation. The situation is then a starting point or context for the dramatic action. As you noted, certain situations lend themselves well to certain classes of dramatic action.

A couple of situations in Westerns (which also work well in Action or War stories) come to mind: The Showdown in the Street, and the Ambush in the Canyon.

From Romance/Comedy (but used in many genres): Walking in on the Cheating Lover.

Noir detective stories tend to have the Tailing Someone (as mentioned above), the Dame Walks into your Office, and the Heavy Warns you off the Case (these may be more obligatory scenes than situations, but I have seen them all in general action stories too).

I’m excited to dig into your database as it expands! Thank you, Story Grid editors, for doing this hard work and for sharing your insights with the world!

Reply
ANNE HAWLEY says:

I suspect that the further we dig into this subject, the more large categories we’ll spot. For instance, while Showdown in the Street and Ambush in the Canyon are situations specific to the Western, could there be a certain type of story utility that Ambush in the Canyon shares with, say, Conversation in a Car, or Meal Scene of Discomfort (in that there can be an “ambushing” quality in all those). If I need one character to ambush another in some way, what can I learn and use from a Western scene of ambush?

Similarly, Walking in on the Cheating Lover might be more specific to Love, Crime or Thriller stories, but it might also fall under a larger heading of “Surprise Discovery” (just riffing here).

How much does a Tailing Someone scene have in common with a Spying On Someone scene, versus a Chase scene? I don’t know yet, but now that I’m thinking in this abstract, pattern-recognition way, it’s all I can think about!

Reply
Jonathan Berman says:

Don’t know how far people want to go down this rabbit hole, but my thought is that from a purely practical perspective, Chasing implies a desire to catch so as to apprehend, communicate with, or kill, or to give the impression of that desire. This may or may not be the ultimate goal in Tailing. Tailing implies movement of the target, and observation of same for intelligence collection – how the target interacts with their environment and vice versa, and/or where they are going. Spying (perhaps Surveilling might be more appropriate; idk) could be Tailing, but not the other way around. Spying/Surveilling can be done from a fixed location, whereas Tailing requires motion.

Reply
ANNE HAWLEY says:

That’s just the kind of analytical thinking that this whole inquiry is going to depend on, I think.

In Brokeback Mountain we have two instances of “spying,” both in the “little did they know” category. I suppose if the character knows or suspects they’re being tailed or otherwise spied on, it gives rise to a different set of character actions (evasion, for instance), and a different form of narrative drive (suspense). When it’s all unbeknownst to the protagonist, but known to the reader, we’re in dramatic irony territory.

But is the POV that of the spy? Is the spy the protagonist or the antagonist? Every choice along this continuum changes the story. It’s fascinating.

And yes–whether the scene type involves movement or is static seems to be a key consideration.

Reply
catherinepryan says:

Thank you, ladies. This is such fun. Already, as you say, I am already thinking about application to my wip.

Reply
ANNE HAWLEY says:

That’s great to hear, Catherine. There’s no value to these theoretical flights of fancy unless we can actually USE them!

Reply
Simon Townley says:

Off the top of my head, I’ve come up with a few possibilities:
1. The classroom scene – with a teacher and pupils. One of the Indiana Jones movies has a classic example near the start where it is used mainly for exposition, as I remember, and to establish character. (It’s probably Raiders of the Lost Ark).
2. Unexpected meeting: one characters goes to a place where they encounter another character whom they don’t expect to see there. I think this generally works as a revelation scene.
3. Gossip scene: two characters discussing a third. The conflict will likely come from them disagreeing in their assessment, or one will be trying to persuade the other to change their view.
4. Shopping scene: from market stalls to supermarkets, people in almost every stage of civilization need to shop. But going out in public is likely to lead to meetings, confrontations and dangers. There’s an example in Casablanca, involving Rick and Ilsa. (It could be easily combined with the unexpected meeting scene).
5. Hiding scene: someone hides, someone else searches for them. (There are lots of these in Lord of the Rings).
6. Prepare your weapon / tools scene: before battle, Aragorn sharpens his sword. A platoon of infantry might strip down and prepare their guns. A painter might be mixing his paint, a carpenter sharpening his tools. It’s a scene for a slow, considered discussion, but with danger or crisis lurking in the near future.
7. “We need a vehicle” scene: the characters need to steal a car, or some horses, or a cart, or a spaceship. They make a plan, then put it into action. It’s likely to go wrong. I’m sure there are lots of these in the Star Wars movies. In westerns, the cowboy often needs to replace his horse.
8. Stand up to the bully scene: villains are usually bullies and at some point every hero has to show his courage and stand up to them. Classic scenes in any story set in a school or college, but could apply to any environment.
9. Stages of life scenes: this one is a bit of a cheat, because it’s lots of scene types, but this could include: christenings; weddings; a funeral service; the burial; the reading of the will; birthday parties; Christmas and Thanksgiving; the opening of the presents; Sunday service in the church; the parent and teacher evening; the school play which one parent fails to attend; the first day at school or college or a new job; the sacking scene; the packing up your desk and leaving your job scene etc etc.
I think I could keep doing this all day! I’ll stop now…

Reply
ANNE HAWLEY says:

Great additions to the database, Simon. Thanks! You have an eye for the kind of abstraction we’re going for here.

A classroom scene could be a kind of one-to-many conversation, where various students’ characters are compared through their reactions to being called on, their knowledge, and their relationships to each other (I’m thinking of Dead Poets Society, though I’m sure I’ve seen many others). As such, it could be a great setup for a mini-plot or multi-character story, as well as a teacher story.

Your assessment of preparing weapons or tools is great! Whenever I can make a mental shift like that from sword to gun to can of paint, I know I’m onto something. Sure, preparing for battle is different (and in a different kind of story) from preparing for work, but both variants help reveal the character, mood, occupation, and intentions (possibly wants and needs) of the person doing the preparing.

Yep, this is how to think about this subject.

Reply
Dee Todd says:

I loved the way Anne broke out the scene types (almost down to beat level) in the Masterwork experiement. I learned a lot from analyzing that spreadsheet. Not sure where you all find the time to do such in depth and thoughtful work, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who really appreciates it and gets value from it.

Reply
ANNE HAWLEY says:

Hi, Dee. Isn’t it amazing how much is revealed by the close study of a single work? I’ve been blown away. As to how we find time, well…it’s touch and go sometimes! But one thing we all agree on: the more we do this work, the easier and less time-consuming it becomes.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Story Grid has helped thousands of authors tell better stories.

Now it's Your Turn

I’d like to send you a FREE 5-day video course on how to tell better stories with Story Grid.

The Book

Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.

First Time Writer

Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.

Resources

Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.