Plot & Structure Exercise 22: Plot a Plot on the Intensity Scale

Here Mr Bell asks us to practice visualizing an action scene via the Intensity Scale. Intensity generally moves up and down, so the writer’s job consists of turning the dial on his prose’s intensity. Here it is, imagine a graph where:


X equals the scene’s progression. Y equals the intensity level from 0 to 10. Where the top half of the graph area is the “Show Zone” and the bottom half is the “Tell Zone.”


Find an action scene and chart is intensity.


. . .


I’m going to choose Haruki Murakami’s short story “Birthday Girl,” and plot the middle scene where the protagonist meets her mysterious restaurateur boss. For context, you need to know that all the girl wanted for her birthday was a day off. But her coworker got sick, so she showed up to work. What’s worse, she has never met her boss, who always has his dinner delivered at the same time every night by the manager. On this day, the manager also gets sick, and so they ask the birthday girl to take the food up to him. This is the scene:


(3) Description of the weather and of the restaurant.


(5) She starts to head up the tower with the food cart; descriptions of the food and the elevator.


(5) She’s at the door, clearing her throat.


(6) No one answers, but then someone does, an old unimpressive man, nothing like we expected; he is deeply described.


(4) Birthday girl speaks.


(3) Boss replies, one word, seemily unthreatening.


(3) Reply from the birthday girl, nervous, but not intense.


(2) the Boss ponders, speaks almost to himself.


(2) BG explains.


(3) Boss reacts, we see his forehead.


(3) BG reacts to his reaction, asks to come in.


(3) Boss says sure, making an odd comment about a wish.


(4) This is thought about, wish, birthday, what?


(5) Tokyo is described, from the Boss’s high apartment, all while we are curious about what will happen next.


(3) BG suggests leaving.


(2) The Boss seems nonchalant, nothing like we expected, and I’m starting to this nothing will happen.


(3) BG says she will go back to work.


(4) Boss suggests she stays.


(4) BG unsure.


(4) He has something to tell her, he says, very politely.


(5) BG reacts by blushing, conflicted by the presence of her employer, his polite request, and her nerves.


(3) Asking her age, she answers, suggesting it’s her birthday, too. He wishes her a happy one.


(5) It’s the first time someone wished her a happy birthday, she realizes.


(4) They dine together. He’s dark and ominous. But non-threatening.


(6) He will give her a birthday present.


(6) She denies him, but thanks him.


(6) Boss insists, he is described, his movements too, starts talking funny.


(7) He explains it isn’t a tangible gift, starts to move like a magician, and says he will grant her one wish. Anything.


(7) Reaction from Birthday Girl, dry throat.


(8) Stipulating the kind of wish and giving conditions, the Boss sounds too good to be true.


(7) Reaction to the Boss’s words, rain his the window (tying in with the weather in the beginning), her ears pulse.


(6) She asks for clarification.


(5) The man doesn’t answer, just smiles.


(7) “Do you have a wish, miss — or not?” he asked gently; and this gives us a niceeeeee PROMPT ending to the scene.

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