A year or two before I started working on my first book project, I decided to read a few books on the craft of writing. One of the books I picked up described the seven elements of a scene. According to the author, every scene has seven elements or stages: goal, conflict, disaster, reaction, reflection, decision, action.
That writing tip has stayed with me. I started noticing the seven elements in books and film. If you watch sports, you’ll see them there as well. But no one writes in such a mechanical way. A frown on an actor’s face is all you might need for a reaction. A character who storms out of a room might be a way of showing a reaction, reflection, decision, and action.
I’m not a big TV fan, but I got hooked on streaming TV from watching the series Breaking Bad. I didn’t realize it at the time, but if you go back and analyze each episode, you will find those seven elements over and over.
I recently came across another series, which, interestingly enough, also stars Bryan Cranston, that uses these seven elements in scene after scene. The series, called Your Honor, is available on Showtime on demand. I’ve only seen three of the ten episodes. If you want to learn how to build a story around conflict and disaster, watch these first three episodes.
The series is expertly written and acted. There is a disaster around every corner. I’ve been trying to predict what was going to happen based on the seven elements. For example, there is a scene early on where Bryan Cranston’s character decides that the best course of action is to go directly to the police and confess to what happened. I was telling my wife before he walked through the doors to the police station, “he’s not going to do it. I guarantee it.” I’ll admit that I didn’t see the disaster that awaited him inside the station.
There was another scene that blew me away. It dealt with the car that was involved in the hit and run accident at the center of this story. Despite Bryan Cranston’s best efforts to get rid of the car, it ends up in police custody (one disaster after another; one lie after another). A detective asks him about the damage to the front end of the car. He’s quick on his feet and comes up with a convincing lie. You just know they’re going to tie the car to the hit and run. But how? I could not predict what took place. I’m not even going to give this one away, but trust me it was ingenious.