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The Anatomy of a Scene

Lesson 7 of 7

Example: The Graduate


The Anatomy of a Scene

Lesson 7 of 7

Example: The Graduate


Lesson Info

Example: The Graduate

As you know by now, the examples I tend to give are from movies rather than books because more people have seen the same movie than read the same book. And so the example I wanna give you is from The Graduate. And I'm assuming most people have seen it, but let me talk about it a little bit just in case not. The Graduate is the story of Benjamin Braddock. Benjamin Braddock is, I think he turns, he's 20, he turns 21 in the movie. He's just graduated from a very good school. They don't tell you which one, it's back east. It takes place in Los Angeles. He's just flown in, 4 1/2 hours, to get back from college. He's graduated. He did really super well in college, really super well. His misbelief was that when he went to college, if he did really well, when he came out, his future would be waiting for him. It would be something he would want and he could step right into it and instead, he's graduated and he's stepping right back into his childhood bedroom 'cause he has no idea what to do. So...

he's really lost. And his parents throw him this big party to welcome him back. There's not one person his own age, like everybody is much older than him. And so very quickly, as you very well might know, his parents, the wife of his father's business partner, Mrs. Robinson, comes in and seduces him. That's what she wants to do. She seduces him. It turns out he is willing to do that because poor Ben spent so much time on his studies and his school work that he was, in fact, he forgot to have a social life, he was a virgin. So she seduces him and he starts to have an affair with her. And throughout that, they, Mr. And Mrs. Robinson, and it feels so weird to say that, but I actually went in and read about it, and as a matter of fact, they did not give purposefully, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson and Ben's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Braddock, don't have first names, so I have to keep saying it that way. It feels so weird. They wanted to make that distance between the kids and the adults, which sounds really weird to say it that way. But anyway, so Mr. Robinson had been saying to Ben, because Mr. and Mrs. Robinson have a daughter, Elaine, who's Ben's age, I think she's about a year younger 'cause she's still at school, she's at Berkeley. And his dad has said a couple times, hey, Elaine's down from school. I think you should ask her out. And he had no intention of doing that because he's having an affair with her mother. So he did what we all do when faced with a problem that we are hoping will go away and don't wanna deal it, we just ignore it. We just sleep and we do nothing and now it's gonna be gone. But Mr. Robinson's already said that to him twice. So he still said no. So now he's in the hotel room with Mrs. Robinson and he asks her something, they start to have, he forces her to have a conversation because we never have a conversation, let's talk. So they have, and this, anyway, they have a very long conversation. 19 pages in the script, which is sort of shocking. They have this really long conversation and he asks her something about their family life and Elaine, and Mrs. Robinson says, no, no, I don't wanna talk about that. He says, oh, come on. She goes, no, I don't wanna talk about it. He goes, okay, well, the next time Elaine's down, I'll have to take her out on a date and I'll ask her, and Mrs. Robinson grabs him by the hair and says, "Don't you ever talk to my daughter. "Don't you ever go out with her." And he's like, I was just kidding. I wasn't gonna do it anyway. Anyway, so they reconcile. So that's fine. So now that's what's happened. Now we're at the scene. This is actually, I think it's the next morning after that particular scene. So Ben is in the kitchen with his parents. Mother's making scrambled eggs, and his dad says, "Hey Ben, Elaine's back from school. "I think it would be a nice gesture "if you asked her out on a date." Now, at this point he can't ignore it. So he's struggling. There's that oh my, obviously he can't tell his parents why he doesn't wanna go out with her, so he does the next best thing. He says, "I don't like Elaine. "We've never gotten along." Well, he can't ignore it, so he's got to say something. We never got along, I don't wanna do that. And for a minute, it looks like that's gonna be okay because his mother then says, "Okay Ben, no problem. "If you don't wanna ask Elaine out, "I'll just have a dinner party on Wednesday "and invite all the Robinsons over." And at that point, talk about that struggle. Now, this also proves that similarly to Victor Laszlo, Benjamin Braddock was not the sharpest knife in the drawer because had he thought about it for a minute, if Mrs. Braddock had called Mrs. Robinson and said, hey, I hear Elaine's down from college. Don't you think she and Ben would get along great? They would have the cutest babies. Why don't you guys come over for dinner on Wednesday? You know what would have happened. Mrs. Robinson would have had a migraine headache until she was a grandmother twice over. That never would have happened. But I mean, not to throw Ben so far under the bus, the truth is is that when something like that happens and the cortisol spikes, your thinking brain just completely shuts down. So what does he realize? At that moment, he realizes that, okay, he can't get out of this. There's no way he's gonna get out of this. So what he's gonna have to do is he's gonna have to ask Elaine out, take her somewhere, be a total jerk, and then when she doesn't like him, it'll be problem solved and Mrs. Robinson will have to understand because that dinner on Wednesday, that would have killed her. So that is what he decides and that is his and so. Now, to see that this is how stories then escalate if you keep going, what happens after that? Everything we do to make it better only tends to make it worse. Story structure it's from the inside in, not the outside in, it's bottom up, not top down. So what happens plot-wise as a result of that? He does go out with her. He does, he takes her out. And they go, what happens in the plot? He takes her out because, why does it matter to him? It matters to him because he does not want to piss Mrs. Robinson off. And so what does he do? Well, he takes her to a strip club, is what he does. He walks really fast in front of her. They go to this strip club, he sits where he can watch the stage, and he's looking at her, and there's a stripper on the stage. And she like takes her bra off and she's got these pastie things, and she's like right over Elaine's head, like doing this little whatever it is that she's doing, making the pasties go in weirdo directions, and he's going, he says to her, he says, "Wow, you're really missing that effect up there." He's pointing, and then he looks at Elaine, and she's crying. And he realizes this is not a good thing, and he pushes the stripper out of the way, and out she goes, and he follows her. And what does he realize at that moment? What he realizes is he likes her, he likes her. He's now made it much worse. His realization is he likes her and so now he has to find a way to win her back. He can't tell her why he was being a jerk, like, the last thing he could tell her. And that when they get to that inevitable conversation about hey, how did you lose your virginity, he's like totally gonna have to lie. So that is the point. If we go back just for one second, that is what this will help you do. This will help you get onto the page way more deeply than we could have in that moment with The Graduate. What happens, why it matters, what happens, the internal struggle. What is the consequence? What is your protagonist or point of view character realize what are they gonna do next? What is the alpha point? What will each of the other characters, how will they move their agenda forward in each scene? If you can just do that, as you can see, remember we said they were the vertical and the horizontal lines? You will be able to follow that. You will not go off track. You will not suddenly write yourself either into a corner or leave characters behind, like dropping a stitch with knitting, which I think is true 'cause I don't knit, but that sounded like a good analogy. So that is what you wanna do. The takeaway is, after all of this, we've been talking about the anatomy of a scene, the takeaway is the power of any scene comes from the story it is advancing. All those scenes that riveted you, that we were talking about in the beginning, did not rivet because of the scene itself. In fact, I would bet that if you pulled just that scene out and showed someone else or told them what it was, they'd go, okay, yeah, and so? Have you ever had that where there's some book you really love and you read some scene to somebody you like and they go, okay, yeah, whatever? Like why is that, in fact, when I teach, that aha moment is so profound in a book, I never pull them out and read them in teaching because if you hadn't read the book all the way through, you'd go, oh really, that's a big deal? And when you're reading it, it hits you like a freight train. The takeaway is the power of the scene is coming from the story, not from the scene itself. So your goal is not to learn to write a riveting, wonderful standalone scene. Your goal is to create a story that will give birth to scenes that will therefore be able to rivet. And once you've done that, you will have the power of story. So I will leave you the way I always leave, is once you have the power of story, please use it wisely. Thank you.

Class Description

Although your novel is made up of individual scenes, in truth those scenes are not individual at all, but part of an escalating internal and external cause-and-effect trajectory. Each scene is made up of myriad layers, and performs multiple tasks: they move subplots forward, give the reader insight into the protagonist, develop secondary characters, ratchet up what’s at stake, foreshadow what’s to come, and trigger changes that will ripple throughout the novel.

Wow, that’s a lot! How do you keep track of it? And how do you get it onto the page so that all those layers merge to create what reads as a seamless whole? That’s exactly what we’ll unravel, giving you a clear, concise and concrete method of making sure that every scene you write not only serves the story you’re telling, but rivets the reader.

Never again will you face that frustrating struggle, wondering if the scene you’re contemplating is relevant or not. You’ll learn how to identify and create each layer in every scene, bringing your story to life and creating the irresistible sense of reality that hijacks the reader’s brain.

In this session you’ll learn:

  • What makes a scene work, and what every scene must do in order to be relevant and riveting.
  • Maddeningly common mistakes writers make when writing scenes and how to deftly avoid them.
  • How to keep track of every layer in your story – scene-by-scene -- from beginning to end.
  • Why you should never write scenes out of order.


Emily Brady

I love Lisa's book, Story Genius, and this course helped me to get a more solid handle on how the individual scenes are part of a greater whole that give them meaning. Great class!

Jerusha Billington Gray

Great storytellers are not born - they are made. The story wizard Lisa Cron helped to peel back some of the mystery behind what makes a scene work and pinpoints pitfalls that make it fall flat on its face. The magic formula of epic badassery is ours for the taking. Lisa helps us get there. 10 out of 10 - will listen again.

Jennifer Baylor

I've read Lisa's books and used her Story Genius techniques for three novels. Still, sometimes I find myself struggling with some aspect of the scene card when it comes to implementation. This class on the Anatomy of a Scene really helps to clarify the scene card ideas with more explanation and detailed examples.