ER for Chapter/Scene Breaks

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Literally I’m referring to the TV show, ER. Metaphorically, I wanted to look at how we use what we know and hate love about our favorite TV shows to increase urgency in our readers to turn the page. *smiles*
Earlier this month, Jami Gold did an amazing post entitled Cliffhangers: Not Just for the End of the a Book. And for whatever reason, I ended up doing a big face-palm the other day. See, Jami Beta Read a few chapters for me. Which, lemme tell ya, was A-MA-ZING! But she made note that I had two chapters that weren’t ending like they should’ve. They were missing the emotional reaction warranted by the goal/emotion of the scene.
O.M.G! Duh!
So I journeyed back to her blog to that particular post and printed it out (again!). Only this time,  I’ve got it posted on my wall (‘cause there are some *cough* habits *cough* that we need to be reminded of in order to keep doing them).
Then, as fate would have it, I was editing/revising the following 75 pages of my WIP while ER was playing in the background.
And then it hit me again! O.M.G!
Why am I not using what I know and hate love about TV shows in my writing? Sure there are the highly emotional scenes, and the action scenes, the quirky and memorable characters and plots, but why is it not clicking that part of the reason why we enjoy these shows so much is because they like to torture us slowly? Because they like to drag out the plot over the course of 10-20 episodes (or in some shows, they drag out a large plot for an episode and subplots for the whole season)? Because they like to create tension in the pit of your stomach? Because they include subplots that enhance the main plot? Because the complexities of the relationships are written so gosh-darn good??
*straightens shoulders & clears throat* Sorry about that. See what I mean? Ma-jor face-palm moment. So yeah, this is another A-ha! Moment I hope some can learn from. 🙂 
Back to chapter/scene breaks and ER:
On the TV was an earlier episode from season 12. The episode was almost over when all of a sudden, one MC dropped a bit of a bombshell on the other (or as I like to call it, a surprise Christmas present):
Now, I don’t know about you, but I really, really, really wanted to know what Dr. Luca Kovac was going to say about this. Especially considering that he and Abby had not defined what they were to each other by that time. 
But then the episode was over! Ack!
Per Jami’s post, this could be defined as ‘Reveal a Secret.’ OR, given the history of each one of those characters, it could also be defined as ‘Emotional Journey.’
Now, even though I’ve watched every season of ER way too many times to count, I decided to put the computer away and watch the rest of the season (over the course of the next few nights). Again, we had another ending (for a commercial break) that made you really dislike the show for breaking at that moment.
In this scene, two men who are looking to escape from prison decide to fight in jail and rough each other just enough to warrant a trip to the ER. Right as they’re leaving – with a nurse in tow (who is one of their’s ex’s – hehe) – they’re basically caught and all hell breaks loose (putting in jeopardy every single character you knew and loved oh-so-much). Bare with me, I know it’s long, but it covers both this point and the next one:
Again, per Jami’s post, the first part (through 5:19), right before an oh-so-clever commercial break, would be defined as ‘Physical Journey.’
Then, to add even more to the tension and conflict to the season finale, the episode ends with not one, not two, but a total of five lives hanging in the balance (a pregnant Dr. Abby Lockhart and her baby, Jerry who worked at the desk, Sam, the nurse that was kidnapped, and Sam’s son, Alex, also kidnapped).
That means from 5:20 forward, a great finale by the way, would be defined as ‘Introduce a Mystery.’
Pretty neat, huh? *smiles*
So overall the lesson I wanted to share here is this:
·         Not only should we be learning from others (blog posts, craft books, workshops, etc.), but we should also be learning from our everyday activities:
o   TV shows
o   Movies
o   Real life (Ever had one of those days where a coworker left for the day and made a one sentence comment that left you hanging so bad you called them before they could even leave the parking lot?)
·         Even though we’ve read and understood thousands of craft tips and tricks, we have to do two things before they’ve really begun to sink in:
o   Add them to our ever growing ‘list of things to check for during revisions’
o   Practice, practice, practice.
§  Be specific in our practice. Write a scene (or a passage), any scene, and put into practice the particular technique you’ve learned. The only way to learn is to do.

What about you: Do you ensure your scenes end on the proper hook? If so, do you have a ‘go to’ hook that you’re totally amazing at? If not, what will you start to do to make sure you begin adding these? Any other ERfans out there? *smiles*


*Be sure to read up on the details of each of those cliffhangers on Jami’s blog

4 thoughts on “ER for Chapter/Scene Breaks

  1. Oooh, I missed that post of Jami's. She is so darn good! Isn't it amazing when we have lightbulb moments? I seem to have them every single day :/

    (Btw, I stopped watching ER a few seasons ago. I got tired of it. Now I'm obsessed with Mad Men. Go figure)

  2. Hi Julie!

    Jami *is* awesome, isn't she! Yup, I really, really love those lightbulb moments. I have them about once or twice a week…wish I had 'em every day like you though. 😉

    Oh, I like Mad Men as well, though I'm not as caught up as I'd like to be. I really enjoyed ER while it was on, and I got very disappointed when the series ended (which explains the show on DVD around here at my house). I usually let it in the background. Sometimes the tension in the show helps with my writing…other times I get some good ideas. Maybe I should try doing that with Mad Men? 😉

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Julie! 😀

  3. Great post, Melinda. I don't watch ER, but I see some of the same techniques in a show I do watch, NCIS. Just started back watching TV recently, and there's loads of good techniques writers can learn from the well-written ones.

  4. Hi Susan!

    Yes, ER started to get me to notice it because it just happened to be on at the moment, but just about every TV show that I enjoy watching does this. And it's not just the scene/commercial breaks that teach us great techniques. I secretly love dissecting the characters and seeing how the writers inserted backstory and quirks in an oh-so-NOT-obvious way most times. 🙂

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting! 😀

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