By All Means, Create a Scene

We're taught that plays and novels are composed of a series of connected scenes, but what exactly is a scene, and how do we create one in a #memoir?

If I were to ask you to describe the photo above, you might say something along the lines of, "Well, there's a room, maybe in a house or a restaurant, and there are people sitting around a table. They're clinking beer bottles in a toast, and they look happy, like they're celebrating something."

If you decide to go a bit further, you might estimate the people's ages, and perhaps speculate about what they're celebrating (Did they just graduate from college? Did their favorite team just win the Super Bowl?). You might even wonder aloud as to each person's relationship to the others, what they might be saying, or what will happen when this moment is over.

The point is, you would attempt to fill in the answers to the natural questions: who, what, where, when, and why.

To break it down further, a #scene:

  • contains action (who, what)

  • provides context for that action (where, when)

  • serve a purpose in the larger scheme of the story (why).

Most scenes contain dialogue, but it's not necessary in every case. The effectiveness of a scene in which someone sneaks into a house in the middle of the night to steal–or plant–something, for instance, might hinge on that character not encountering anyone or speaking at all.

Each scene consists of a:

  • setting

  • beginning

  • middle

  • end

and a consequence that will move the #story forward.

It will explain something, reveal something, ramp up suspense, set up a conflict, or resolve one. It should always have a clear purpose.

In a memoir, as in a play or novel, you're taking your readers on a journey through a series of events that resulted in a change in your life. Each event will likely be conveyed through at least one scene.

Start by simply listing the major events that are relevant to your #journey and #transformation, using just a few words to jog your #memory. They may look like snapshots in your mind at first. Once you have what you think is a fairly complete list, start fleshing out the events by answering the questions we asked above:

  • What happened?

  • Where and when did it happen?

  • Who did what?

  • Who said what?

  • What led up to the event?

  • What were the results or consequences?

To these answers you add the sensory #details that bring a scene to life.

If you feel squeamish or too intimidated to dive right into scenes for your memoir, you can practice by choosing a random memory from any point in your life. Sit and explore it. Describe the memory. Start with the setting, then move to the actions, the players, what was said, what you thought and felt.

Add in sights, smells, sounds, textures, tastes, if any. You may be surprised by how many details you recall once you start writing.

If it helps, you might even imagine that you're sitting on the phone with a friend, describing a movie that you're watching in real time. How would you relay the information so that your friend could "see" and "hear" and otherwise experience the movie as clearly as you can?

Lastly, memoir also involves reflection. When you're done setting up and describing the scene, ask yourself: What is this scene's relevance in my life? How did it contribute to who I am now?

Don't wait too long to get to the scenes relevant to your memoir, and don't worry about "getting it right" on the first try. The first step is always the hardest. You'll find yourself engaging more deeply with time, and you can go back and add more details later.

If you want to write a memoir, you can and you will. This is how you start.

Ready? Set. Go!

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