In a meeting this weekend to go over some scene construction, the discussion came around to how do you best transition a scene while keeping the present behavior of the character active and interesting? This is pretty fundamental, but often lost, and easy to add.

The key is often what’s known as a closed transition, or in the case of an introduction to a new character, a closed entrance.

In step one, you just have to define their point of reference in the scene – ie. what is their state? You can think of it almost as “what color are they wearing?” or “what emotion?” What’s their chord?

Indiana Jones has his hat and his stoic sense of watchfulness – he was always on to something, doing something and caught in the middle. In class he was already at the chalk board / interacting with students. In an action scene he was planting his whip on some tropical tree branch / yelling directions.

Multitasking has to be kept simple, but if used well it does three big things to enhance the experience of the introduction. The first is simple: It sets the character within a scene instead of awkwardly out of the ether. It closes the entrance like a camouflaged army unit strafing in an unrecognized pattern across the field. As the audience or reader, you’re never quite sure when you began to notice the character from the meaningful visual explanation of the backdrop, and that leads to a very realistic scene that doesn’t seem as contrived as it might otherwise.

The second enhancement of the closed entrance provides the needed connection with the image system. If you haven’t read or downloaded, or been to the McKee Story Seminar yet, then you really should. But if you have, you will be familiar with the metaphorical connection good films have to their mythologies – an often poetically unique substructure of meaningful metaphors that tie in external imagery to the internal motivational and emotional states of the characters.

The image system is an invisible, common bond between each character, who will react differently enough each in turn to the same symbols such that the audience is treated to a double layer of camouflage through the entrances and exits of the characters, and the meanings behind their actions. This is also the layer at which sub-plots arise, as mini-narratives that human beings will intrinsically find more narratively cohesive and will work to piece together on the sidelines as they maintain their interest to the main plot arc of the story.

Say you have a character who’s fundamental role in a manuscript will be the secret-keeper or handler of the insert-artifact-here. Having them come through a door that leads to a smoky back room in a casino, having just stuffed a large wad of bills into his or her purse or wallet is a closed entrance. Instantly the audience has a reason presented to them to be intrigued by the character. There’s never a sense that the character is waiting for their cue – they’re in action, moving props, body and expression. Readers need this entertainment, too, and what’s more it’s a lot easier to include actions and thinking in a novel, so they must be narrowed down all the more to make sure only the meaningful stuff is there to count. The rest can be swept away.

Probably the most important reason to write closed entrances though, is that as a writer you will need to know as you are writing what each of your characters represents. Each closed entrance is a checkpoint for the mechanics of how a character relates to the image system as well as how their state has changed relative to the rest of the scene.

Including a healthy dose of active dialogue and taught closed entrances and exits also leaves the energy of the scene all intact for the next scene change. Similar to come in late and leave early, the closed entry automatically creates just such an event, however minor, to incite a reason for your characters to relay the plot information you’ve intended.

On that note, it’s time for bed… yawn.