The 4 Components Necessary To Bring A Scene To Life

When writing, we all strive to bring our scenes to life, but it’s easy to forget a component.

One can have the most involved and choreographed scene, full of action and danger, but it won’t leave the readers on the edge of their seats if it’s missing the other 3 components.

One can have the most intricately described setting, that the audience can fully envision, down to the taste of the stew, but if it’s missing a component, the audience won’t care.

So. What ARE the components necessary to bring a scene to life?

1. The Active Components

These are the stage directions. Who or what is moving, who is speaking, and who is crying?

When you’re laser-focused on the plot and the action, sometimes scenes can get reduced to this. If you’re translating D&D style gaming into a novel, often, this is where you’ll start.

Off the top of my head, here’s an example I’ll build on:

John opened the door, and Susan said ‘hi,’ through her sobs.

2. The Physical Components

What does the room look like? What do the people look like? What faces are they making?

For those with a cinematic bent, or screen-writing background, it can be easy to fall into leaving scenes with active and physical components, while missing the next two.

John peered through the window framing his oak door and spied a familiar silhouette. As he opened the door, he caught a glimpse of tear-streaked cheeks glistening in the light streaming out from his foyer.

Susan shivered under his gaze, and then with a snuffle, finally spoke.

“Hi.”

3. The Sensory Components

Ignoring one’s vision, what other senses are there? This is where smells, tastes, background noises, touch and texture come into play.

For those who write lyrically, it can be easy to lose oneself in the senses and forget about the plot.

John peered through the window framing his oak door and spied a familiar silhouette. As he jiggled the deadbolt free, a whiff of her old vanilla conditioner greeted him and he caught a glimpse of tear-streaked cheeks glistening in the light streaming out from his foyer.

The cool autumn wind gusted with the telltale signs of an approaching storm while Susan shivered under his gaze. Then with a snuffle, she finally spoke.

“Hi.”

4. The Emotional Components

You can narratively evaluate and tell emotions, or you can invoke the essence of an emotion through physical responses in the character’s body or body language.

My characters like to live in their heads, which can end up with me narrating feelings instead of showing them. It’s an easy trap!

John peered through the window framing his oak door and spied a familiar silhouette he’d never expected to see again[telling]. With a gasp, his heart started to race and his palms grew clammy[showing]. How long had it been?[mental emotional response] As he jiggled the deadbolt free, a whiff of her old vanilla conditioner greeted him and he caught a glimpse of tear-streaked cheeks glistening in the light streaming out from his foyer. He had to clench the doorframe to resist the urge to take her into his arms. [invoke feeling through longed for action…]

The cool autumn wind gusted with the telltale signs of an approaching storm while Susan shivered under his gaze. She stared at his feet, hugging herself [showing her emotional state], and then, with a snuffle, she finally spoke.

“Hi.”


***

I know my examples were a bit clunky, but the gist should be obvious. A scene is best when it includes all of the ingredients.

Are there any components you think I missed? Please, let me know!

 

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9 thoughts on “The 4 Components Necessary To Bring A Scene To Life

  1. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  2. When I’m ready to get out of my comfort zone (non-fiction) and feel ready to tackle fiction, I’ll look back at this and other such posts of yours, Morgan.

    I did get all of two whole pages (!!) into a story, and then screeched to a stop when I realized I no idea where the hell it was going to go. I mean, the idea I did have has been way overdone already. I’ve got to think of a new path for my main guy… a new goal… and new twists. Once I know where it’s going to go, I think then I’ll enjoy the trip to get there.

    Liked by 1 person

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