I e-mailed Laura Whitcomb about my questions in my results of the exercise, "Scene Shortcut," in the previous post, and she was kind enough to review and respond. I've taken the liberty of excerpting her response here:
In the "what should happen in the scene" section, the goal could be as simple as learning that so-and-so isn't a suspect or as complex as John and Mary fall in love. It's the thing you're aiming at. The reason for having this scene in the first place. It might go with the character's goal. It's great for tension if two or more characters have different goals in a scene. John wants to convince Mary to testify while during the same conversation Mary wants to find out how he feels about her romantically. That kinda stuff. =)
Something should be unresolved. Could be something big like a mystery's whodunit, or something smaller like a character being unsure how they feel about something like death or taxes. What you don't want are scenes that tie up all the loose ends every time. People will feel too free to close the book. =D
Helpful feedback. Thanks so much to Laura Whitcomb.
Now here is the scene I wrote after weaving the three elements for the "Scene Shortcut" together:
“How was that lawyer Miller?” Arlene asked.
“I guess, okay.” Rob still chewing, sat back in his chair around our kitchen table. “He had me tell him everything before the police took my statement.”
“What kinds of things did he ask you?” she asked.
We had opted for pizza, with a whole-wheat crust since Seth was trying to control his consumption of white flour and sugar. He didn’t want to turn out diabetic like his mother.
Rob shifted in his chair. “Mom, that’s confidential.”
“Anything you tell a lawyer is confidential,” said Seth.
“I just want to get a feel for the guy. Is that so wrong?” Arlene appealed to Barbara.
“Like if were there any problems.” Rob avoided eye contact as he sawed at his pizza.
I stopped chewing. Those indentations in the pad I had found on his nightstand? I had filled the numbers in and called them: “Attorney’s office,” the young woman had sang out over the phone.
“What kind of attorney?”
“Divorce,” she’d said as if that was the happiest thing ever.
“Wrong number,” I’d said, wondering, as I replaced the receiver, who had written it down – Rob or Laurel?
“No marriage is perfect,” Arlene said and stuck a bite into her mouth.
“You can say that again,” said Barbara.
I didn’t want to rub it in, but I was pleased at how things had worked out for me and Seth. Why had I resisted marriage for so long?
Barbara pointed with her fork. “This pizza is the best ever.”
“The deep dish is even better,” I said, “but since the kids don’t eat the crust, we get the regular.” When ordering, Seth and I had reminded ourselves of our motto since having children: It’s all about them.
To underlie that point, I heard a “More!” from Alyssa in the living room. As I scurried to do her bidding, I strained to hear the grown-up conversation at the kitchen. But the Wiggles, singing and prancing about with brightly-colored pompoms, drowned it out.
I took Alyssa’s cannabilized piece back to the kitchen. She had picked off the cheese and pepperoni and left all bread products behind. As I tossed it in the garbage, I thought once again how comfortable you had to become with waste when you had children.
“I made some calls, “Rob was saying “– to the pharmaceutical rep from B.X. Watkins – but I have his phone number programmed into my cell phone so I called him from that.” B.X. Watkins, the company Seymour worked for, and where Laurel had her stock. Was it sheer coincidence that Rob had called someone from there? My mind started spinning the possibilities. Had he found out about her insider trading? Is that why the number for the divorce attorney?
“Mommy!” Noah yanked me out of my pondering. He had finally learned to say my name. Like most children, he had learned Daddy’s name first because of the constant prompting by Mommy, but now I wondered why I had been so eager for him to say it. The sound echoed through my ears, and I could barely hear Rob.
“It didn’t prove I was in my office. And the phone rang a few times, but I didn’t pick up. I thought it was probably a student – I had my seminar that afternoon – and they usually call about the case I assign right before it.”
That’s how they do, I thought until Noah wailed, as in “Come on with it, woman!”
As I cut my own half-eaten slice into tiny bite-sized pieces so Noah wouldn’t choke, Seth asked, “You didn’t write an e-mail, make a phone call?”
Rob shrugged. “I was either on my cell phone or dictating notes.”
I didn’t know anyone who dictated anymore and laughed at the idea of any of our office help typing something for the faculty.
“They can’t think it’s you. You’ve never done a violent thing in your life,” said Arlene.
I hurried into the living and handed Noah his plastic bowl. “Now don’t cram it all in your mouth at one time.” On the T.V., Henry the Octupus warbled a song. His voice sounded like the lead singer for the B52’s.
“What about that maid?” Arlene said.
I walked back into the kitchen. “I had Rosa call her.”
Arlene put her fork down. “Whatever for?” Even though I was a grown-up and an authority figure in my own right, I could see that she must have been a fierce disciplinarian. No wonder Rob had married a strong personality like Laurel.
Sitting down, I said, “Blanca’s trying to get her family back here. She sends them money. She makes an easy target for the police since she’s terrified of being deported.”
“How is that different from your babysitter?” Arlene asked.
I smiled. It was like a challenge question from a student, and I had a good answer. “Rosa has her green card. And she doesn’t rely on me for income. She works at the child care center at my gym, and I have to work around her hours.”
“I doubt if they can take you seriously, Rob.” Seth was obviously trying to change the subject. “There’s no evidence of a problem between you and Laurel. It’s not like the neighbors heard you arguing or anything like that.”
I wondered how hard the police had worked to get hold of the neighbors, to find out if they’d seen anything. I’d had no luck myself when I’d knocked on the house’s next door. Everyone in Georgetown must work all the time to afford their houses. I remembered that even when the emergency vehicles came, they didn’t draw out the neighbors like they usually did, only a few passersby.
“And they still haven’t found the murder weapon,” Rob said.
“If they don’t have that, any case against you is circumstantial,” Seth supplied and got up for his second piece.
“Boy, you eat fast,” said Barbara.
“It’s ever since having the kids,” he said, “we’ve learned to eat like wolves.”
“There’s no evidence againt Blanca either,” I said.
“She was there,” said Barbara.
“Yes, but she didn’t have blood on her.”
“She could have changed. Did you think of that?”
I shook my head. Of course I had thought of that. “Then she pretended to run out screaming for the benefit of neighbors that weren’t there? She didn’t know I was down the street. If it was an act, and now that she’s not working for Seth, she should sign up for a Spanish theatre group.”
Seth said, “She knew the area. Wasn’t she the one who walked Weezie? Maybe some bush or some plant?” I shot him a look. “Hey, I’m just playing devil’s advocate. You’ve got to consider all sides when you’re in court.”
What I was really thinking was, how could I go back and search the area for bloodied clothes?
Reflection on the Scene Shortcut
I thought this was a good exercise. In the future, I would probably not be able to keep all the sections as clean as Whitcomb presents, but that's moot since the point is to get you writing. It does ensure that you attend to all the elements, which makes you think them through. I would definitely use this one again for writing a scene.