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Pinchofmagic

The Monogram Scene

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I recently started a new story, and I remembered this advice from WritersWrite's article: 3 Must-Have Scenes That Reveal Character

 

1. The monogram scene

 

In elegant days gone by, characters would emerge from the bathroom or boudoir wearing a monogrammed robe – it was usually white or a rich velvet affair.

In much the same way, you have to give your main characters a scene or two that ‘marks’ them as individuals – interesting characters we may want to follow in the story as readers. These scenes must show who that character is at their very essence.

It helps if you can find a brief description or key words that ‘nail’ that character. For example, my antagonist, Monty could be described as rich, entitled, and narcissistic. OK, great – how do you show that in a scene?

For this scene, I have Monty flash his credit card to pay for drinks at a downtown club, only to have it declined, which sends him into an abusive rage with the waiter. He points out that the shoes he’s got on cost more than the waiter’s monthly salary. Hopefully, it shows him for what he is – a rich kid who likes to get his own way.

 

Do you have a monogram scene for your main character(s) that quickly reveal the most important thing about them, their essence, to the reader? If you were to write one, how would it play out (using the short example in the article)? 

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Hm. I don't know if this is quite what you mean, but my character, Ivar, kind of has one or two scenes where this happens in my novel? Basically, I have a scene where he admits, through his thoughts, that he's a spy and a traitor, and he goes and reports to the queen that he's been spying for. There's more to it than that, but that's the gist of it. Is that kind of what you mean? Where it's like...the one "oooh snap!" kind of moment that shows who a character truly is?

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I think this has some similarity to the "opening image" in some forms of story structure (Save the Cat IIRC?)

I think about it in terms of... firstly I have an idea that I think is fun and a character I care about, but underlying that in the background is: what does the reader need to know about who this character is and what their motivations are, and why should the reader care. I don't set out in a stilted or manipulative way to "make people want to read it" but those questions sort of underlie it as part of the scene, if that makes sense?

So, in my current rough draft: I have the boy hero, Roland, treating the villagers around him with disdain, but also being crushed when he misses the apprenticeships, and seeking the guidance of old man Nicodemus for what to do next. There are also a few hints thrown into that first scene about how it's all being orchestrated around him. All of this to show his immaturity and selfishness, but also his vulnerability. (Like, he's sixteen, guys.)

 

Quote

“I’m busy,” Roland snapped, elbowing past. He scowled at all their smiling faces and the windowsills lined with potted flowers and the cheerful peasants in their clean linens. A bunch of girls giggled as he passed.

None of them understand, Roland thought. He didn’t think a lot, but when he did, they were deep and serious thoughts. They’re all fools, living in peace. They know nothing of the real world.

 

Another example: In Percy's opening scene, he's one of two guards outside the Dark Tower. It's his first day on the job and he's explaining to the other guard why he failed at past jobs (asking too many questions, etc). Then he shares some biscuits. I'm using this to show the contrast/conflict between his appearance and the expectations for him vs what he's actually like. Also establishing the fact that he's a decent guy but lacks confidence. The fact that it's raining and they're stuck on a lousy shift is also a way to create relatability.

Quote

“Then Dad sent me to work as a tax collector for the city watch. But I sort of... didn’t follow protocol.”

“Taking a little cream off the top, eh?” Ron nudged him with a sly grin. “That’s my boy.”

“No, no!” said Percy, sounding horrified. “I was just trying to help Mrs Davis!”

A deep frown was developing on Ron’s face as his cigarette dangled between his fingers, almost forgotten about.

“...what?”

“Ugh, it was horrible, they were trying to bother all of these poor people who couldn’t even pay the bloody taxes anyway, not with their pittance of a wage, and they were trying to threaten Mrs Davis, and after her husband died, she only has her cat, and well, I just thought, why not help her out, you know? Why not give her a bit extra from my purse so she can get by?”

Percy was rambling now, waving his hands about.

“But apparently that’s not allowed, so then I failed at that too, and then the only place Dad could get me in was here… I guess he figured I wouldn’t be able to do much damage here, because I just have to look the part. And I’ll probably fail at this, too!”

And he fell silent and sat there with his shoulders hunched and his head down. “Please don’t tell Sharky…” he added.

 

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9 hours ago, Jedi Knight Muse said:

Hm. I don't know if this is quite what you mean, but my character, Ivar, kind of has one or two scenes where this happens in my novel? Basically, I have a scene where he admits, through his thoughts, that he's a spy and a traitor, and he goes and reports to the queen that he's been spying for. There's more to it than that, but that's the gist of it. Is that kind of what you mean? Where it's like...the one "oooh snap!" kind of moment that shows who a character truly is?

The way the article describes it, it seems like an early scene for the character ("emerging with a monogrammed bathrobe" so we know who this person is, and also showing what's important to know about them in the story). It doesn't feel like it has to be the absolutely first scene a character appears, but fairly early for them. I saw it as a scene where the reader understands a prime feature of the character's personality that will turn out important for the plot. I like your spy/traitor scene when he's reporting to the queen. That seems like a super-big deal for this character, a revealing thing that appears to have an important impact on the plot and insight into understanding the characters and their actions. So pretty much what I understand the monogram scene to be. Nice! :)

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9 hours ago, roadmagician said:

I think about it in terms of... firstly I have an idea that I think is fun and a character I care about, but underlying that in the background is: what does the reader need to know about who this character is and what their motivations are, and why should the reader care. I don't set out in a stilted or manipulative way to "make people want to read it" but those questions sort of underlie it as part of the scene, if that makes sense?

Yeah, exactly! What the readers need to know (very well put) in order to see that this character is important and also; these are the things about them that will be important in the future. Like, the trouble they'll get into because of their personality, their arc and a place to start their inner journey, or things that will ground the person in our minds. It can be done so quickly, like you showed in the Roland-scene, or be part of longer reveal where backstory and the character's idea about themselves comes along, like with the essence of Percy: He's a kind dude, and that puts him in a bit of conflict with the world. I loved those both scenes, by the way. The Percy one just showed how you can say a lot of things about a character, without it feeling rushed at all in a short scene. Very well written, and I could tell these things were important for the stories and characters. Thank you so much for posting them, they were really inspiring! :) 

The thing about the monogram scene, I think it's taken from the old movies, where a character appears in their robe and we get a really quick idea of who this is. If they were carrying a martini glass, you get the impression that this is a bit of party-animal. Or if they have a lipstick mark on the robe, a womanizer. If they have a pair of glasses in the robe pocket and carrying a book: An intellectual. So, it was an easy way of introducing them in the story. I just thought it was a neat way to think about making that first quick impression of a character in a written story too, by showing them something important about their position in life or their personality, and how it can be done fairly quick and simple. :) 

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On 4/13/2019 at 8:13 AM, Pinchofmagic said:

I like your spy/traitor scene when he's reporting to the queen. That seems like a super-big deal for this character, a revealing thing that appears to have an important impact on the plot and insight into understanding the characters and their actions. So pretty much what I understand the monogram scene to be. Nice! 🙂

Yup, definitely. 😄 That's awesome, 'cause I hadn't heard of that term before, so it sounds like I managed to do it without realizing it. XD

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