Oh boy, oh boy. Today’s exercise on scene writing asks us to take a look at a chapter we have written. To analyze its Hook, Intensity, and Promptage. And then see now we can strengthen each ascpet.
Because I don’t have a chapter of Awake & Asleep yet, I’m going to analyze a chapter from my first novel, The Summer Abroad. Here we have Mikaíl on his last morning with Aleida, the woman he thought he loved. He’s actually leaving to Barcelona, to continue on his backpacking journey, and meet another woman. This isn’t revealed, but we come to find out something about Aleida. It’s ends pretty tragically, and when I wrote that ending . . . well, my face looked like someone had minced an onion under me.
. . .
The opening paragraph summarizes the events of the previous night, movies, failure to cook a dinner, over-indulging on ice cream, and all the pillows that were tossed off the bed on their last night together.
(4) with them kissing quietly, for the last time, and the narrator realizing she could never be the mother of his children. (5) Saying the bus leaves in an hour. (6) Reaction from Aleida, curled up and nodding her head, as hollow light falls on her body, and a reference to Vermeer. (7) She confesses she wants him to stay; first time she reveals her true feelings; how she will miss him. (7) Mikaíl doesn’t react, but continues button his shirt, while the a/c his them. (6) Just asks if she would walk him to the bus station.
Beat, section break.
(5) Aleida is quiet the whole walk. (6) Flowers are talking to Mikaíl, telling him to stay, as if speaking for Aleida. (7) The bus revs it’s engine, while another couple cries and hugs and kisses. (7) Meanwhile Aleida and Mikaíl don’t do the same, but remain quiet. (8) Aleida sheds one tear and says she misses Mikaíl already. (7) Mikaíl refuses to talk, instead kisses her, and questions his motives inwardly. (6) He just gets on the buss, and sees Aleida, sees Holland, and realizes he never congratulated her for her nephew who was born the day before — when he broke the news that he was leaving. (7) As the bus drives away, Mikaíl feels the tingle on his lip from their last kiss, plays music, and compares his pain to a rock turning into a grain of sand by a low-tide.
Beat, section break.
“One day at a time, Mikaíl. One day at a time.” The narrator repeats a lesson he has learned earlier in the novel, one meant to bring him calm and peace, during his journey. But now is being use defensively, not only to preempt the surging anxiety of the impending unknown, but also to cancel the frustration of having mishandled a woman’s heart.
. . .
It’s already a pretty powerful scene, but it wouldn’t hurt to turn up the gain on a few of the knobs. Beginning with the weakest, the hook stands to improve. Right now that opening paragraph is descriptive, but it could be turned into reaction if we open with Aleida’s confession of wanting Mikaíl to stay. If this confession is given up front, then the details about the room will be super charged. Also, doing that means the moment when she confesses her true emotions to Mikaíl could be even more powerful, maybe she goes deeper, and says straight up “I love you.” This would force Mikaíl to say his true feelings, “I don’t love you.”
But ok, we keep him quiet. How can we crank up the intensity? The first tactic that comes to mind is we add a couple of 2s and 3s to contrast with the 6s and 7s in the rest of the chapter. This could be cheap comic relief, where Mikaíl tries to make light of the separation, but comes off cheesy and insensitive.
Or if we wanted to have some 8s or 9s in here, that might spice things up too. For example, maybe Mikaíl talks about the woman he is seeing in Barcelona. Or he recalls the episode where he met Aleida half a summer ago. Another example would be to give action to Aleida, where instead of just saying she will miss Mikaíl she kind of blocks the door, puts stumbling blocks, makes him feel guilty for leaving, tries to seduce him one last time. Or straight up she breaks down on him, instead of holding in her pain. As in, she goes all in at the apartment. This would make Mikaíl’s decision to leave all the more definitive.
The very end, though, as much as it makes me cry, could be made even stronger. What if Aleida exhibited depression before, had pills lying around? And Mikaíl ponders her possible reaction to his leaving. What if he looked at his watch and realized he might be late for the flight? Or what about wondering whether or not to tell the next woman he is seeing about all this, or if he will have to keep it a secret, if possible.
So many ways to improve. Gosh. Art is never completed, only abandoned. Even with what I consider one of the most powerful scenes of the novel, I could do better . . . Thank you Da Vinci. Thank you Mr Bell. Ladies and Gentlemen, let us carry on!