How many types of scenes are there?

Stories aren’t always about hitting each prescribed beat. Stories are about characters making choices.

I’ve been talking about scenes a bit this week and I’m keeping up the scene theme today.

Mike Nichols had thoughts about scenes.

Mike Nichols (a famous movie guy) believes there are three main types of scenes and his scene types are all about what the conflict and choices are in the scene.

Fight – You have to use strength or endurance or willpower to get what you want.

Negotiation – You are being logical and everyone is working together to figure something out. It’s like Scooby Doo when the gang tries to figure something out.

Seduction – You are manipulating someone else to get what you want.

Rachel Poli among others says there are eight.

Hers read a bit more like plot points or story beats. And honestly, I worry about the idea of an ‘exposition’ scene because that usually slows down the plot and narrative, but here you go.

Introduction – Shows character/back ground

Exposition and preparation – Information is given to the character. She says this is where the conflict is scene, but I’d argue that you need your conflict to be seen in every scene.

Transition – “The character are on the move.”

Investigation – It’s an investigation.

Revelation – Things are revealed! Realizations are had.

Escape and Pursuit – Your characters rescue someone, they run away from someone, they run after someone.

Aftermath – This is usually after a big scene. It’s basically a reaction beat.

Resolution – The finale.

The Script Lab presents 17 types of scenes. We’re quoting them here.


1. Setting
 – Where are we?

2. Atmosphere/Mood – What is it like there?

3. Introduction – Who is it we are dealing with here?

4. Exposition – Necessary information. Quick and Clever.

5. Transition – getting from one place to another. Fast.

6. Preparation – What will it take to prepare for the task at hand?

7. Aftermath – How does the character feel about what just happened?

8. Investigation – Gathering information.

9. Revelation – The reader/audience finds out something important.

10. Recognition – The character finds out something important.

11. The Gift – Using a prop with emotional investment and turning it into a weapon, emotional or otherwise.

12. Escape – The character is trying to get away, avoid, or hide.

13. Pursuit – The character is trying to follow, capture, or secure.

14. Seduction – Someone must convince someone else.

15. Opposites – Two characters from seemingly opposite poles are forced together.

16. Reversal of Expectations – A character expects a certain, very clear outcome, but another character surprises him, influencing him to reverse his intention and do something else – practically the opposite of what he planned to do.

17. Unexpected Visitor – Someone unexpected shows up. Problems arise.

Why So Many Different Numbers? Three? Seventeen? That’s a big difference.

Well, people like to have original ideas and claim knowledge as exact. But also because they are looking at slightly different things.

You’ll notice that Nichols’s scenes descriptions really are different. They are about conflict and choice and not about story beats. And I like that.

Stories aren’t always about hitting each prescribed beat. Stories are about characters making choices. If you read those other scene lists they can be helpful in structuring your story and making sure you hit certain beats, but they aren’t about the core of your character’s transformation.

Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story, says,

“A story is about how the things that happen affect someone in pursuit of a difficult goal, and how that person changes internally as a result.”

Timothy Hallinan writes,

“For me, a scene is a unit of story in which something changes. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and at the end something is different than it was at the beginning. It may be a character or a situation, or just our understanding of a character or a situation, but whatever it is, it’s changed when the scene is over.”

What do you think? How do you describe a scene?

Resources

What’s a Scene (And What’s A Chapter?), Timothy Hallinanhttps://rachelpoli.com/2018/07/11/8-types-of-scenes/embed/#?secret=a6jGSYAmSm

https://thescriptlab.com/screenwriting/structure/the-scene/16-types-of-scenes/https://www.ninetydegreesmedia.com/how-to-write-a-scene-in-a-novel/#:~:text=A%20scene%20is%20a%20piece,these%20categories%20it%20falls%20into

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It’s my book! It came out June 1! Boo-yah! Another one comes out July 1.

And that one is called  THOSE WHO SURVIVED, which is the first book in the the DUDE GOODFEATHER series.  I hope you’ll read it, like it, and buy it!

The Dude Goodfeather Series - YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones
The Dude Goodfeather Series – YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones

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Fight, Negotiate, Sex – The three main types of scenes.

So, a lot of people think that there are three main types of scenes:

  1. Fight scenes
  2. Negotiation scenes
  3. Sexy sexiness scenes

And the important part of every scene is conflict. That’s because when conflict happens, the character is forced to do something.

Readers want to watch characters do things, right?

Except for fans of Waiting for Godot, but to be fair the characters are waiting. That’s an action.

Sorry! Tangent.

What us writers have to do is make the conflict matter.

For the conflict to matter it has to be about your character wanting something so damn badly, but they aren’t getting it in a way that’s easy.

The biggest, strongest desire is when our character’s want makes them suffer.

Your character arguing about how to hard boil eggs wouldn’t be a meaningful conflict UNLESS it’s somehow connected to her biggest needs and wants and yearnings.

Your character arguing about how to hard boil eggs might be a meaningful conflict IF he has been on the perfect hardboiled egg quest because it’s the only thing he remembers about his dad – his perfect eggs. Or something.

What meaningful conflict does is that it forces the character to do something, to act, to make a choice.  The type of conflict relates to that choice in the scene.

FIGHT SCENE

This is usually about willpower or strength or determination. You will by beating up your opponent or by dealing with something for a long time, enduring it.

Think Atlas holding up the world.

Think about Captain America being beaten up by the Winter Soldier and he keeps getting up.

That’s a fight scene.

SEXY SCENES

I could probably call this a seduction scene, but I’m not terribly mature.

In these scenes you have one character (or multiple ones) manipulating another character’s desires. It might not always be about the sex.

Darth Vader’s big scene where he tries to get Luke to join him, be part of the dark side, stop fighting. He gives him the possibility to be important and a place to belong.

NEGOTIATE ME SCENES

These are scenes that are a push and pull between solutions. It’s about compromise. It’s about logic. It’s very Ravenclaw.

It’s whenever a gangster convinces people to do something.

Negotiation scenes are all about that logical outcome. And at the end of it, everyone goes, “Ah. That makes sense. Of course, we’ll do it that way.”

Each type of scene requires different responses about the character and tells us different things. I think you should lean into these earlier scenes with the men being either fight or manipulation.

Mike Nichols, this ancient director, really loved to talk about those three types of scenes. He was pretty adamant about them being the only types of scenes that there are and he would always say, “When in doubt, seduce.”

Actually, I think his partner, Elaine May might have said that.

But the truth is that you can have a scene be more than one thing at a time. That intricacy makes them pretty beautiful and so much more poignant. Whenever you can add the character enduring (Fight) to a negotiation, it’s a better scene. Because it’s layered.

Other screenwriters and playwrights (like Pete Peterson) have taken this from Nichols and talked about it on podcasts all over the place. One interesting and possibly helpful insight on this is by Jonathan Rogers of THE HABIT after an interview with Pete Peterson.

He wrote:

To frame every fictional conversation as a fight, a seduction, or a negotiation is to foreground desire. And desire is the engine of storytelling. What do your characters want? There may be other questions at stake in the stories you tell, but that question is ALWAYS in play. It is an unavoidable fact that writers always need to communicate information; sometimes they communicate that information in dialogue. But characters carry on conversations in order to get what they want. If we use dialogue merely to convey information and neglect the interplay of characters’ desires, that dialogue will almost surely be flat, uninteresting, and less than believable.

This may be another way of saying the same thing, but dialogue is something that characters DO to each other. Fighting, seducing, and negotiating are actions, not merely an exchange of information or opinions. And, by the way, in the process of fighting, seducing, and negotiating, your characters will provide information and express opinions that your reader will find most helpful. The point here is not that characters can only fight, seduce, or negotiate, but that whatever else is happening, one of those three things has to be happening.

In real life, not every conversation is a fight, a seduction, or a negotiation. Sometimes people really are just providing information or expressing an opinion. Or talking baby-talk to a baby or asking for directions or ordering French fries. But not everything in real life is raw material for a story. I’m reminded of Steve Martin’s exasperated reminder to John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: “Not everything is an anecdote, you know.” We spend a third of our lives sleeping. I don’t care how realistic your fiction purports to be; it would be a mistake to devote a third of your word-count to people sleeping.

LET’S HANG OUT!

HEY! DO YOU WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER?

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Email us at carriejonesbooks@gmail.com


HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast and our new LOVING THE STRANGE podcast.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. 


Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

Thanks so much for being one of the 263,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!

One of our newest LOVING THE STRANGE podcasts is about the strange and adorably weird things people say?

And one of our newest DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE episode is about fear setting and how being swallowed by a whale is bad ass.


And Carrie has new books out! Yay!

You can order now! It’s an adult mystery/thriller that takes place in Bar Harbor, Maine. Read an excerpt here!

best thrillers The People Who Kill
The people who kill

It’s my book! It came out June 1! Boo-yah! Another one comes out July 1.

And that one is called  THOSE WHO SURVIVED, which is the first book in the the DUDE GOODFEATHER series.  I hope you’ll read it, like it, and buy it!

The Dude Goodfeather Series - YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones
The Dude Goodfeather Series – YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones

TO TELL US YOUR BRAVE STORY JUST EMAIL BELOW.