Thursday, October 17, 2013

Journey with Gillian Lessons Learned: Combining Scenes (with Merlin)

Gillian Adams is a speculative fiction writer who blogs over at Of Battles, Dragons, and Swords of Adamant where she writes about anything relating to books, fantasy, villains, and costumes. She loves interacting with other writers and readers on her blog or facebook page.

I’ll admit it. I love the BBC TV series Merlin. I started watching it a while back … and you guessed it … I was hooked from the first episode.

And once I was hooked, well, I had to come up with a good reason for all the hours I spent catching up on the back episodes. And it didn’t take me long to come up with one. Are you ready for it?

It was research.

Don’t laugh yet!

I was obviously watching Merlin to improve my craft. After all, Merlin is a medieval fantasy … exactly what I write! I fell in love with the characters in Merlin … and my goal is to write characters that people fall in love with.

Open and shut case.


Okay, so that may not be the reason I started watching Merlin, but once I decided it was my excuse, I figured I’d have to actually start learning. So I stopped viewing the show as mindless entertainment, engaged my brain, and started taking notes. Figuratively.

And it wasn’t long before I learned a valuable lesson about combining scenes.

Lessons Learned: Combining Scenes

In case you aren’t familiar with the series, here’s the basic storyline:

Merlin is a young sorcerer who learns that his destiny is to protect Prince Arthur and help him become Camelot’s greatest king. But magic is outlawed in Camelot and anyone caught practicing magic is sentenced to death. Merlin must protect Arthur while concealing his power from the entire kingdom.

There’s an episode in the second season where Merlin needs to see Prince Arthur's top secret list of druid-sympathizers, while Arthur wants to find out why Merlin was sneaking flowers to Morganna, the King’s ward.

Rather than having two separate scenes, the screenwriters combined the two things that needed to happen and put them in one scene.

While Arthur is teasing Merlin about giving Morganna flowers, Merlin is distracted by trying to sneak a peek at the list on Arthur’s desk. So he keeps accidently giving the wrong answers to Arthur’s questions since he’s only half listening.

It makes for a truly comical scene.

In the end, Merlin gets what he needs. (Yay!) But now, Arthur is convinced that Merlin likes Morganna. (Uh oh!)

And thus conflict is born.

So not only was the scene hilarious, but it laid the ground work for future conflict, kept the story moving, and kept the episode from being bogged down with too many disconnected scenes.

Lesson learned: If there are two things that need to happen at some point in your story, rather than writing two separate scenes, see if you can combine them into one. It doesn’t always work, of course. But when it does, it ratchets up the conflict … and it saves time too.

A couple of guidelines for combining scenes:

You might want to combine scenes if:
  • It will increase the conflict
  • It will add humor to the story
  • The scenes complement one another in some way
  • You have one larger, important scene and one smaller, unimportant scene—for example, Merlin needed to look at Arthur’s list to move the story forward, but the flower fiasco existed simply to provide comedy.
  • You’re like me and tend to be long winded! Forcing yourself to combine scenes also forces you to cut the extra and find the heart of the story.

You probably shouldn’t combine scenes if:
  • Both scenes are large enough in scope that they deserve their own separate scene. Otherwise you’ll wind up with a crazy scene in which a dozen different things happen so fast it will set your readers’ heads spinning.
  • The combined scene would be too weighty or attempt to convey too much important information all at once.
What are your thoughts? Do you ever learn writing lessons from movies or TV shows? Have you ever tried combining scenes?


  1. I always love your posts, Gillian. Thanks for another great one!
    ~Sarah Faulkner

  2. Your posts are always inspiring, Gillian! :) I love how you explained all of this, and it puts a great point in there. I will be using this so much, thank you! :D

  3. I actually never thought about combining scenes like that. I'll definately keep an eye open for it. Thanks, Gillian. Great post!

  4. I've never done this before, but this is a great idea! Thanks for another great post!!

  5. Merlin! :D I love that show. I never thought by watching a show I could learn to be a better writer, but this post proves it. I'll definitely need to watch out for that while I watch TV. :)

  6. Hey...this is a great idea! Thank you! I have way too many short little scenes that should/need to happen, but just are so...short. This is perfect, especially since I have trouble creating enough conflict. :)

  7. I really like Merlin too! :-)
    Combining conflict sounds like a good idea, thanks!!

  8. I love Merlin!
    Thanks for the tips.

  9. Oh, this is a great idea! :) I never really thought about it like that, but I'll definitely be thinking of ways I could do this. :)
    I definitely like picking up writing tips while watching shows or movies. I think I've picked up on ways to create emotion (mostly depressing :P) from Doctor Who and Sherlock. I'd love to be able to make someone cry as hard as I have cried in those shows. :P

    Thanks for the great post! :)

  10. Giiiirl, the second you mentioned BBC's Merlin my heart did a little flip. That is hands down my favorite show. EVER. I think my obsession with it has gotten on the unhealthy side. *cough* BUT, just like you, I often consider watching it "research". Because medieval fantasy is exactly what I write (I actually have an Arthurian Legend series going) so it helps a lot. (But I also just love it way too much. Ahem).

    I loved your points here. It's never even really occurred to me that certain scenes could always be put together. I tend to write way too long books, so this is very good advice for one such as me.

    Thank you, Gillian! I always love your posts. ^_^

  11. Oh my goodness! I started watching Merlin and guess what? I was instantly obsessed... It's now my favorite show. Fabulous advice! Love it :)

  12. Oh my goodness! I started watching Merlin and guess what? I was instantly obsessed... It's now my favorite show. Fabulous advice! Love it :)

  13. Ah, Merlin. Love that show. ^.^ and great post! I'll have to keep an eye out for combine-able scenes in my own stories. :)

    I have a completely unrelated question that anyone can answer if they feel they know what the answer is; Is it bad that most of my paragraphs start with a person's name? In particular, the same character's name? And if yes (which is what I think), then is there a trick to staying away from that, while at the same time staying away from the frowned-upon adverbs?

    Sorry if that made no sense. I can give you an example if need be. :)

  14. Funny scenes like that one you described in Merlin are the best -- misunderstandings and such. And I love this advice about combining scenes; thanks, Gillian!

  15. I've never thought about doing this before! I'm definitely going to do this with my favorite shows...which of course include Merlin.

  16. So, once you've outlined the chapter, or sets of scenes, you would go over them to see which ones you could combine. Is that the basic idea?

    Nicely illustrated by that scene.