Friday, July 26, 2013

In Service to Story

The tales we tell are broken down into chunks. A novel. Chapters. Scenes. This, presumably, is done to make the whole of the story easier to consume.

It's also useful for working through a narrative line. None of which should be construed as support on my part for any kind of extensive story plotting. I, too, am a totally character driven writer. As such, I require something slightly different of my scenes that my plot-driven counterparts.

To survive in a book a scene has to:

  • Touch on the external conflict - preferably via action and/or dialogue
  • If no external, then it must hit the internal conflict - also via action or dialogue
  • Challenge the protagonist and make things MUCH worse unless we're in the last few pages of the book
  • Advance the over progression in the overall story arc
But above all things, the scene must serve the protagonist. Note I didn't say 'serve the story'. For a character driven writer - or at least, for me, it's the same thing. Everything rises from character - the conflict, the motivation, the goals, the arc, all of it.

My secret weapon for figuring all of this out is a book/workshop called Break Into Fiction. It's heavy with templates asking you questions about your protagonist and what drives him or her. It's invaluable. The book (with all the templates) is available, too. Taking a few days to work through the templates gives me enough information that I know what my characters MUST face in order for them to change - to morph into the people they need to be to face the antagonist.

From that point, I have a vague notion of what scenes need to happen where. I say 'vague' because inevitably scenes I think happen near the climax of the book are actually necessary within the first third of a book. And then everything thereafter has to shuffle to adjust.

That said, I want scenes to work as hard as possible. I really want them doing at least three things at once (see list above). During rewrites, that's what I shoot for - taking two lazy scenes that only do one thing each and finding a way to merge them so they DO more. Cherry Adair likes to say 'what the fuck's the point of the scene'? She also advises getting into scenes late and then leaving them early - meaning, I think, that you want to keep your scenes packed with action. I like to keep those comments in mind - both while writing scenes and editing them. I *want* my scenes tight and filled with tension. Of one kind or another. That doesn't happen if I'm allowed to meander. It's alarming to me how someone who claims to be a writer (me) so instinctively wanders away from conflict rather than headlong into it when she's allowed to putter about in her scenes. Thus - short, tight, and jammed full of stuff that has to happen.

All of that said, it's fascinating to me how other people approach their work. So more please. Has there been something left unsaid about scenes this week? What do YOU require of your scenes?

No comments:

Post a Comment