The five commandments of a scene, as outlined by Shawn Coyne’s revolutionary Story Grid approach, will bring any scene to life. These commandments — Inciting Incident, Turning Point, Crisis, Climax, and Resolution — are the pillars that sustain the drama, tension, and satisfaction in any given scene.
Let’s break down each commandment and understand how they contribute to creating engaging and impactful scenes.
1. Inciting Incident
Every scene needs a starting point, a moment that sets the stage for conflict and change. The inciting incident is the catalyst that propels the scene forward, introducing an event, decision, or revelation that upends the characters’ status quo. This event triggers the protagonist to act, initiating a series of actions and reactions that drive the narrative.
This also kicks off the progressive complications — obstacles or conflicts that intensify as the scene progresses, making it increasingly difficult for the protagonist to achieve their goal. These complications escalate the stakes and force the character to adapt, innovate, and dig deeper to navigate the mounting challenges.
2. Turning Point
A scene’s turning point is a pivotal moment when the story takes a significant turn. It’s the point of no return, where circumstances shift, and the characters face a crucial choice or challenge. The turning point changes the direction of the story. What worked for the protagonist up till now isn’t cutting it anymore. This turning point heightens the stakes and forces the characters to confront their goals and motivations, setting the stage for what follows.
In the midst of conflict and tension, the crisis emerges as a dilemma that the characters must grapple with. It’s the make-or-break moment, a critical juncture where the protagonist faces a decision that will dictate the outcome of the scene. This should be a genuine struggle, a crossroads that demands a choice between two negative or two positive outcomes, each with its set of implications.
In one scenario, the character may face two negative options, where the choices present an ethical dilemma, a moral conundrum, or a sacrifice they must make. For instance, a detective might have to decide between saving an innocent hostage or capturing a notorious criminal. Both choices come with a heavy emotional toll, and neither is without consequences.
On the flip side, the crisis could manifest as a choice between two positive options, creating a tension of desire. The character might have to decide between pursuing a promising career opportunity and spending quality time with their family. Both choices offer something valuable, and the protagonist must weigh their priorities and values to determine which path to take.
This is where the character shows what they are made of.
The climax is the culmination of the scene’s tension and conflict, the moment of highest intensity. It’s the point where the protagonist’s decision from the crisis plays out for the reader to see. The climax has actual consequences depending on what the protagonist chose in the crisis.
After the climax, we need to see the protagonist’s reaction to the climax. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the events that transpired. Has the character learned anything? Have they succeeded or failed and how does this affect them?
Understanding and implementing these five commandments in your scenes will beef up any scene. Coyne’s Story Grid approach empowers you to craft scenes that captivate readers, keeping them turning the pages to uncover what happens next.