The Compulsory Scene
Question: Is it really that hard to create a story? I mean, I’ve been watching books and reading movies my whole life. Don’t you think that through simple osmosis I’d have picked up what I need to tell a story worthy of being paid for?
The problem is this: stories that are amazing are amazing because the writer wrote it in such a way that the mechanical elements are invisible to the reader/viewer. And there is so much to think about. Way too many to discuss in this blog post, but let’s take a look at just one
The Compulsory Scene.
Compulsory Scenes are scenes that have to be included in a story, depending on the genre you are writing in. As an example, in a murder mystery, one Compulsory Scene will be the discovery of the body. You can’t have a murder mystery without a murder, right? So, at some point in a murder mystery, usually at the start, there will be a scene where someone is either killed, or someone discovers a dead body.
This may sound “elementary” (pardon the pun), but it’s so much deeper than that.
You can’t just write, “And here’s the dead body!” because that’s been done a million times. You will never stand out from the crowd – i.e. you will never sell copies of your book. What you must do is make your Compulsory Scene of “finding the body”, which has been done a million times in a million different ways, different in your novel from all others. And that is where time, education, and effort will come in.
You have to know what you’re doing to be able to do it in a way that no one else has done before.
Step over to my genre, Epic Fantasy.
There are tons of Compulsory Scenes that must be in Epic Fantasy for it to be Epic Fantasy. I could take the easy road and bring up that in Action/Adventure, a Compulsory Scene would be that the Hero has to come really close to death. But that’s as obvious as a body in a murder mystery. So let’s dig deeper.
Another Compulsory Scene in Epic Fantasy, one that if not done well will hurt your Epic Fantasy story, is “the Journey”. In every Epic Fantasy book, the characters will start in one place, and travel to another. But since it’s been done a bazillion times, how do you make yours unique? And the answer is not, “Well, I’ll be unique by not including it in my novel!” Because then, you are not writing Epic Fantasy! Go back to my last example. You can’t write a murder mystery that doesn’t have a murder! That’s not how you can be unique.
Compulsory Scenes are named such because, well … they’re compulsory. Are they required? No. But readers will be expecting them. Your job is to make them unique and interesting. And if you don’t include them, you better do so in a unique and interesting way other than just not including them. But if you don’t study this, if you have never heard of a “Compulsory Scene” before, how the hell are you going to know it needs to be done?
Compulsory Scenes only scratch the surface of what a writer needs to know. But no one wants to hear that. They feel that since their mommy says they are the best little writer in the whole wide world, they should be able to skip actually learning what it means to be a writer and just go right to the New York Times Best Seller list.
Fortunately, I’m here to tell you what you don’t want to hear.
Hate me yet? Good.