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.
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.