In the early stages of scene creation, it’s useful to keep in mind where is pleasure and where is pain.

I had written a scene about a man getting hypnotized, with a group of fellow freshman during college orientation. My character went on stage, hesitant because he was worried he would be embarrassed. He relaxed along with the other students. Then, at peak relaxation, a haunting image of his past flashed into his head that threw him out of that relaxed state. Now, he sat in the chair on stage, super self-conscious, wondering what to do now. He was supposed to be hypnotized but he wasn’t. Should he play along? Should he just open his eyes? What!? He’s sweating on stage, unable to hide.

The scene was solid. But it didn’t jump to the next level until I asked, where is pleasure? where is pain? and where do these transition? I knew the pain was in his discomfort of not knowing what to do, especially with a hundred college freshman looking on. But it wasn’t until I asked these questions that I realized the pleasure was actually what he felt just before this. Hypnosis in broad terms is based on relaxation into your feelings, so that the brain calms down its mental chatter. That’s incredibly pleasurable, especially for someone like my lead character who’s always thinking and thinking and thinking. So I realized the scene was centered around him being surprised by how good the relaxation feels and surrendering to it and feeling more relaxed than he’s ever felt in his life. Then flash. He’s injected back into his mind, trying to think his way back to an experience that is only achieved through feeling.

He falls from grace into what feels like a torture chamber. That’s a powerful scene.