What is NotesOnAScene useful for?
NotesOnAScene is mainly aimed at story consultants and cinema schools.
We believe that NotesOnAScene helps solving a unique problem: stories are hard to write, craft is even harder to master, and although there are a lot of how-to guides, theories, and useful information out there, the time it takes for a writer to create a fair-enough draft can be overwhelming.
At school and out of it, writers are aware of many issues that can make a story fail, and they delve deep into a pool of uncountable techniques and recipes of all sorts, which are there to help them solve each and every one of those issues, but the learning storymaker can struggle to imbue himself with all these solutions, understand them well enough so his story finally beats all those problems ahead and succeeds in seeing the first good draft.
NotesOnAScene helps in that: NotesOnAScene helps a student understand in practice how to use a technique, not by understanding the theory, which is already in the textbooks and in cinema class, but by seeing it in action and allowing both the teacher and the student to “point” at it, “point at the scene”, “point at the technique”, and ask and answer questions like “why here, why this way, …”. This will allow the student to “own” the technique way faster.
Let’s explain it with an example, with a little bit of humor, with “The case of the worst writer ever”. If he can get the techniques, you can get them too.
The case of the worst writer ever
Once upon a time, in the hot and noisy Bangladesh, there lived a soon-to-be writer, with a cronic case of sweetness. Sohel couldn’t harm a fly, why should he?, he thought. He was lucky to be a student. His parents paid for the basic stuff, although he didn’t see them much, always at their work. He wanted to make the world a better place. He loved to read. When he read, he got into fantasy worlds that were a joy to live in, and he wished the real world could resemble them. These books sent him into FantasyLand, and oh it made wonders to him, or so he thought. There, he had no real fears, and he spent hours, days, months, reading these novels and following their characters, supporting them in their adventures through fantasy perils that always ended in cellebrating a happy ending. He so enjoyed getting inmersed in those worlds. They inspired him so much. He deeply felt those worlds were somehow more real than the society he lived in, because in his society he couldn’t understand why his parents left him so alone and ignored him, why people was so tough and ruthless, animal-like fighting for a piece of food and rejecting any honest human conversation. While, in FantasyLand, he so understood the characters. They really felt more vivid and logic and sensitive and likable. They seemed to be way better people than the real people accross the street he lived in, or his careless, noisy neighbours he got so irritated with day in and day out. He read, and dreamt, and learned about life from his most loved characters, and wished he could be like them and live like them. They inspired him. They instilled hope, a much needed ‘food’ for his vibrant heart. These books and their characters taught him what others didn’t. They taught him about life, and better yet, they taught him about how life could be. He followed their adventures and supported them, and not that strangely, he felt that the characters from the stories he read would understand him better than his own family, neighbours, and society.
Sohel read, and read, and learned some more, and dreamt a lot more. He followed the authors of his most cherished books, and he realized they had to be likeminded. Otherwise, how could they create such beautiful creatures, how could they envision the beauty in their hearts, the same beauty he felt within his, so closely described that they made him feel like they knew him personally, deeply knew him, sometimes even better than himself. These authors knew a lot, and he wished he knew as much, to someday give them back the joys they bring to his life. So, how gratifying, for once, he felt he was not alone. And finally he realized he could do that himself. He would be a writer too.
He read all the books on story writing he could afford, and some more. He felt ready to write his first short story. He was finally going to do it. He would become a writer. He was ecstatic.
Sohel was going to write about romance! That was perfect! He would change the world for the better, one kiss at a time. Oh, he couldn’t wait. He could depict awesome kissing scenes. He had to write them, and share them, so others could enjoy such beauty. He was going to adore working his ass off to create black on white the scenes he depicted in his mind so others could read them.
After reading everything in bookshelves, physical and online, and the best cinema or story craft websites he could find, he started writing. He was ready.
He created the characters. He chose the best lovers kiss scene that he had in his mind, to start with. Why not? He had read that you can start writing by the end, and then build the rest afterwords.
His fingers hit the keyboard as m_therf_ckers, hitting hard, caring nothing about the noise he was filling the room he was in and his neighbours next-door, who at 4am punched the wall adjacent and shout him “strike those keys with your …, you SOB”. He didn’t stop punching the keys, although his cheeks turned red a little bit, because just when they shouted at him he was writing how the female character smelt like roses and he suddenly felt naked to those idiot so uncaring neighbours. He wrote like in autopilot. He wrote without thinking, just flowing, expressing the scene in great detail as he imagined it in his mind. He put great effort in using the best words to better describe the beauty of the kiss, what the lovers felt, outside and inside. He loved every second of the writing process. It was going to be epic. This was going to be the best lovers kiss scene ever.
When he finished his so beautiful perfect scene, he stopped writing, he breathed, printed his document, and started reading.
“Yeah!”, he thought to himself, smiling, “what beautiful description of a scene. How sweet this touch, look how caring she is to him, and how strong his arms look around her tiny hips, … but … wait. Oh, shit. Oh, no! This can’t be. Oh, no no. It feels flat. (Reality strikes). Surprise. Doesn’t it work? What? How can’t this work? It’s just a kiss scene. It has to work. They always work. Come on, what’s happening?”
He re-read. He changed this word, that sentence, that character trait, eventhough it felt like betrayal to him. He re-read, and no, it didn’t work either, it had become worse. Oh.
He felt irated. This was his best scene. He had dreamt about it night and day for months. It was perfect. All so sweet, so tender, so … uhm, maybe magic-less?. Why did it not work? It had to. He had put his best into it. If this scene doesn’t work, which scene would? None. He felt heartbroken. All his hopes crushed.
He slept. Next morning, he tried some changes. He re-read the theory books and changed this and that, but nothing made the scene work.
Some days later, he made a decision. He had seen a script doctor online. He would reach to him, and ask him what he needed to change. He had to make this scene work, first. Or it wasn’t worth to try to write the rest of the wonderful story he had in mind.
He sent him an email. He made sure to tell the consultant that he read all these books. He had to be an expert, after so many literature on the subject, hadn’t he? Why then was his scene not working?
The script doctor replied. You must know the craft, and what the tools are for. And use them. You aren’t using them. You just write beautiful words, but a story is not beautiful words. Reach to me when you do your homework, I can’t / shouldn’t do it for you, only you can.
Plus, he added a list of best selling books on the craft. All of them were known to him. He had read most, so he bought those he hadn’t, and he’d read them in a week.
Sure? What tools had he to use? What was the doctor expecting? It’s just a scene. He hasn’t started to write the story yet. He just wanted to check if he could write a scene, and then, when he would see that he could put words together beautifully, he would venture into story territory and build the whole thing. Isn’t this valid?
He replied to the doctor: “Oh, thank you, I know these books, and I know their techniques. I plan to apply them later. First I just wanted to know if I can write a good kiss scene. But apparently I don’t. Why would I write the rest of the plot?. I’ll read them again, and let you know. Thanks! And have a beautiful day, you’re such a nice person.”
He got no reply to his email.
He insisted in asking the script doctor. He saw in the doctor’s website that he offered a service, barely described as “Show techniques in context“, using a tool called NotesOnAScene, that, he read, would allow the doctor and student to comment on the details of a scene, and what techniques were used, comment on why, discover why this works and why that doesn’t. That’s what he needed!
The doctor agreed to help him, as that tool was new to him. He was granted access to the tool as a promotion, so he could test it and have a taste of it, and later decide whether he needed the full service or not.
The doctor was hesitant about the tool because he already had proven systems to teach students, and needed nothing new and experimental. But, he was willing to try it, so he could get rid of it if his suspicion of not needing it were to be confirmed. The only way he could was in practice, so be it. The doctor thought that, if this tool was to work with the worst case of a story writer student ever, then, maybe he should reconsider and adopt it.
So, let’s do it. He opened the NotesOnAScene website with his username, created a new page for this student, with a clip that had a lovers kiss scene in it, and a couple scenes more. That short clip worked enough well, and it was fun to watch, so be it.
He sent the link to that page to the student. As hesitant as he was, he just added one unique comment, in a scene previous to the “lovers kiss” one. It read: “Sohel, look at what happens here. See? Here the writer adds tension. This is important for your kiss scene. He doesn’t reveal what he knows is going to happen, but he sends a slight warning, to create expectation. You need that. And later another bigger one. You need that too. Add them to your story.”
“Warnings?”. No, Sohel writes romance. And just a kiss scene. He’s there because of that, because he wants to write good things happening to good people, and these two characters deserve this kiss. Why warnings. That crazy stuff about conflict again that so bores Sohel? Life has enough conflict, doesn’t a romance reader want to get away from troubles? Can’t you get straight to the lovers kiss scene? This doctor may be a believer in conflict. He has read many. He may not have chosen him right. If he wanted to write conflict, he would write a thriller. He’s writing a love scene, a kiss scene. What’s conflict got to do with that? Can’t there just be a feeling-good scene, for once? What happens in this world?” He had to calm him down again, he knew where this was going, he couldn’t allow that. He was determined to make this story work.
He breathed. This doctor at least had gone that far to finding a clip with a lovers kiss scene. Sohel realized he had to rely on him. This doctor knew, he didn’t. This doctor probably walked his path before him, and who knows, maybe he crossed his same problems and learned and now was teaching him how to make his love scene really shine. Sohel heard those neighbours through the thin wall that separated his bedroom to theirs. Always making noise. He remembered them knocking his wall when he was writing, and he felt a guilty pleasure about him writing that night and making noise for once instead. He wished the scene to work, and he secretly enjoyed the idea of making noise each and every night, they so deserved it. The decision was already made, an the smile in Sohel’s lips sealed it. This idea brought him the extra push he was needing. Yeah, he should humble himself a little bit, with the doctor only, so he could punch the keyboard every night. Hell yeah.
So, ok, Sohel wrote again to the doctor. And they agreed to a further consultation. Sohel needed craft knowledge in bite sized pieces. He knew not what he thought he knew. Let the doctor cure him of his disease.
The doctor replied: “You need to realize that, although scenes can resemble a ministory, a scene is not there in a vacuum. Stories are made of scenes not for the pleasure of writing scenes, but because scenes are there to achieve different goals, one at a time, step by step.
You need problems, to value solutions.
You need tension, to make the problem worth solving, and find the will to indeed solve it, because, put it simply, problems are problems because they are hard to solve.
You need action/reaction, to make it feel real (characters feel alive), to make the characters own the scene, and not the plot own the characters (avoid the characters become puppets at all costs).”
Sohel was struck. Yeah, it made all sense. Doctor was speaking his language, he felt silly, slightly naked to the savvy doctor, and for the first time he admitted the doctor knew what Sohel’s problem was, and knew the solution to it. Sohel took a deep breath, and expired loudly, letting all the air our as if it was there imprisoned for ages. He could sense he was close to a new path he had never walked before, and the doctor was going to guide him in. Sohel was speechless, he couldn’t dare break the spell that the doctor’s words put on him. He felt the silliest boy on Earth, after this advice from the doctor, but he felt en-route to mastering something, unpleasant maybe, but important for him. Please doctor, go on.
Sohel asked him to do another NotesOnAScene exercise, demonstration, so he could see what the doctor has told him. “I’m a bit of a slow learner, doctor. Maybe it’s for the language barrier. I need to see it, I guess”.
The doctor agreed. In cinema class they show clips all the time, so he could too, with the help of NotesOnAScene. But this time, the doctor saw that Sohel was more open to learning, and he sensed he was ready for a little bit of a shocking experience. Contrast, after all, is a technique to make something stand out. He had an idea. He appointed Sohel for another meeting in a few days. He remembered he had a friend who was an actress, and called her. He was going to have a little bit of fun, doing this. He quickly prepared a script (for a longer clip this time), sent it to his friend, she shot the script, and finally sent it back to the doctor. Friend was happy, doctor was happy, and Sohel was going to be happy, although he sure wasn’t expecting what was coming to him.
He prepared the page with the tailor-made clip, a longer one this time. He created the page with 3 topics to track on: “What to look for in this scene”, “Desire level”, and “Hope level”. Now, he placed comments to them, a couple dozen of them this time, with indications of what to look for at each scene, and a number of the desire level in the audience (supposedly) for the kiss scene, and the odds the audience would probably estimate of the characters finally kissing.
The doctor decided not to send the link to the NotesOnAScene page to Sohel, yet. It was important that Sohel first watched the clip with the comments switched off.
So, everything ready, the doctor summoned Sohel to a meeting online.
After the usual pleasantries Sohel was so used to, the doctor send the link to the NotesOnAScene page with the clip and asked Sohel to watch it, but to first switch off the 3 topics buttons. They would be analyzing the clip later, after Sohel reacts to the clip naturally. Only later, they’ll get to the meat of each scene and how each technique in the clip worked, to make Sohel experience those emotions for real.
“The first goal”, said the doctor, “is to see whether you feel the lovers kiss scene works in this clip or it does not”. Sohel watched the clip, and well, he thought it was very different than what he had in mind for his story, but he had to admit that the lovers kiss scene worked, and beyond that it stroke him hard.
The doctor laughed. “I thought you would react in that fashion. Yeah, it’s not your characters nor your story, but I did it on purpose, to help you get the point. Sometimes you need to change perspective, to see clearly”. And then he started real work: “Say you know that in scene 23 lovers will kiss, as they do in this clip. What would you do? As you’ve seen in your story, you can’t count on your audience to grant you any feeling. You have to earn them, build them beforehand.
So, to build them, first you need to create a scene before that, and make the audience desire the love scene to happen, but make them think the lovers won’t be able to kiss. So, what do we need?:
Sohel replied, a little bit hesitant of whether he was going to like where the doctor was leading him to:
- We’ll need a scene to plant that wish in the audience.
- We’ll need a scene to plant a “this won’t happen, they won’t be able to” thought in the audience.
Nice. Now switch on the 3 topics comments, and let’s watch again the clip. Are these scenes there? Here they are:
- Scene 14: plant the wish. Check! Now, as audience, if the writer wrote this scene well, you’ll wish the lovers to kiss, will they? The “Desire level” category comment says: “5/10”. Ok, we have some desire. “Hope level” comment: “10/10”. It looks easy peasy, doesn’t it? Let’s see what happens.
- Scene 18: the “this won’t happen, sadly” feeling in the audience. Check! Problem: parents want her to marry a rich guy. The kiss scene may not happen. Your wish as audience may not be granted. But, story is not finished yet. Will they kiss? Let’s hope so. As audience, you have now a wish, you are aware of problems, you are aware of characters willing to solve that problem, and you don’t know how they will try to solve it, to get what they want: that kiss. The “Desire level” now states “7/10” that the audience sides by the main characters when they are against some evil forces that block their path to the kiss, and the audience will feel more willing, maybe because they see the characters deserve it. The “Hope level”, though, is now “3/10”, showing that the audience sees this problem as hard to solve for this characters. Ok, keep watching.
- Scene 20: first attempt to solve the problem. She talks to parents. Attempt fail. Check! Now, you as audience push the main characters in their attempt. But it failed. You shout to them: keep trying!! Will they? “Desire level” now is “9/10”. Yeah, parents shouldn’t decide who you kiss or marry, should they? Audience seems to push for that kiss, now. “Hope level”: “5/10”, this may mean that the audience sees the parents power is hard, but the lovers are ready to fight for it, and that rises the hopes in the audience. Well, what will happen next?
- Scene 21: reaction. Lovers talk. Problem: accept defeat or keep fighting. What do they decide?: keep fighting. Check! You, as audience, have witnessed the lovers express your own wish for them to keep fighting. They also talked about how hard it is, which you share with them. Check. You’re in the story. Engaged. Good! “Desire level”: “10/10”, oh yeah, you as audience are all in, wishing that kiss scene to happen. We’re getting into it, don’t we? “Hope level”: “7/10”. Ok, this looks like the audience is crossing its fingers, unsure if they’ll be powerful enough to beat the antagonists. What will they do? What could they do?
- Scene 22: action. He beats rich guy and kills him. Problem solved. Check! Solution, though wrong. Uhm, you now are afraid for the lovers fate. Was your wish for the kiss so strong as to kill someone? Nope? Everything has a price. You were not so aware of that when you jumped into wishing for the lovers to kiss, right? Uhm, consequences await. “Desire level”: “5/10”? Oh, the writer messed it up? Was it the character? “Hope level”: “10/10”. Yeah, the audience is pretty convinced they have cleared the path to the kiss scene, but at what cost. The audience will not be happy, though they think they’ll kiss.
- Scene 23: lovers kiss. Happy, hurray, cheers!! Check!! Now, the scene has finally come. But, the most epic kiss scene ever that you wrote, it may taste bittersweet. You know this won’t end right… Check. “Desire level”: “8/10”, well, maybe, after mistakes are already made, the audience gets a bit of a release by enjoying the lovers kissing, although they have changed too much. “Hope level”: “10/10”, of course, this is no longer meaningful from this point on. Let’s treat this topic as “Hope that they will be happy”, so we make use of these set of comments to the end of the clip. And treat the “Desire level” to answer what the audience thinks about “was the kiss worth it or not?”.
- Scene 24: he gets arrested, trialed, and goes to jail for the rest of his life. And she finally decides that she better marries the brother of the dead rich man, to survive in her deeply cast-ruled society. She won’t change society, she better adapts to it. “Desire level”: “0/10”, yeah, the audience learned that this was not the right path to earn a kiss scene. “Hope level” (i.e., “will they be happy ever after?”): “2/10”. Oh, we are paying the price for not using the right solution but force our own by will power alone.
- Scene 25: Resolution: dramatic irony: In prison he happens to kiss a lot of male inmates every day for the rest of his life. Was that super kiss worth of this? And, after marrying the brother of the dead rich guy, she discovers he happens to be a good man only deeply shy because he has three missing teeth and instead of talking just hisses. So she forgets the kisser, and lives a happy life with her hisser. Uhm, “Desire level”: “5/10”, it’s somehow worth it because he found another lover. Some justice, although not the expected one. “Hope level”: “5/10” too, haha, some happiness for her, as she didn’t commit the crime after all.
“Well”, the doctor finally admits his a little bit drastic measure to teach Sohel, “that was too much. But the techniques are there. Do you see them?”
“Sure I see them. And now I understand why they are there. I feel a bit silly, now, because all these techniques have not been a surprise to me. What have surprised me is to discover what they are for, and why I need them, and where to use them to lead the audience through the story”.
“Yes, they are called techniques for something. They are not a goal on their own. They are there to help you reach a different goal, yours, and yes, they are useful to get you there.
Now, plant them in your work, so your beautiful writing really strikes the cords you intend to.”
Thank you doctor.
Happy ending? Will Sohel’s kiss scene finally work? Will you be able to watch Sohel’s short story in your upcoming cinemas soon? 🙂