Saturday, January 04, 2014

Novel Craft: The Basic Scene

Hi folks, welcome to a brand new year. I'm looking forward to it. My new book PLUMB CRAZY comes out in May. Here is the link at Goodreads if you wish to add it to your to-read shelf.  I can't wait to see what happens next. I hope you feel the same way.

In January, I like to explore an aspect of novel craft, and this year I'm going to chat about scenes. I'm not writing from the literary perspective, but from the working writer perspective. For me, scenes are the engine of story. Each scene drives the story forward and upward. Here is a visual picture. Have you seen a lift going up a mountain? The gondola moves from pole to pole along a wire.  The wire is the plot. The gondola is the main character, the mountain is the setting, and the distances traveled between the poles are the scenes.

The basic scene works like this. Something happens. A hottie guy enters the crowded lunch room at the same time as your mc (main character) girl.  Next, your mc girl emotionally reacts to the thing that happened. She might blush or throw her broom at him or maybe she steps back and slips on a banana peel, tossing her lunch tray into his face. Next, the boy says something emotionally charged to the mc girl. The mc girl says something emotionally charged back. These two can go at it for up to three exchanges with the mc girl's internal thoughts and bits of the setting mixed in. The emotional stew bubbles over. The mc girl has a thought about what all this means.  Like: Oh, hot guy hates me. Oh, hot guy will now date my worst enemy Mad Minnie. Oh, hot guy will never ask me to the prom now. Finally, the mc girl  makes a decision. I'm not just getting out of the lunch room, I'm going to skip school. She acts on that decision.  And off we go to the next scene.

The basic scene is all about showing the story. Your reader is brought into the action and dwells inside the mind of your main character. Think about this, basic scenes are an exchange between two or more characters. If you put more people into your scene, you have just made your storytelling job much harder. Most scenes have two or three active characters in them. The rest of the characters are part of the setting.

A long basic scene is the length of a chapter. Often chapters have two basic scenes. Sometimes, a chapter might have three scenes, but most of the time only two of those scenes will be basic scenes. The other scene will be a transition scene which is generally some narrative to pass the time or move from one place to another. Or it might be some mc internal dialogue that expresses the deep feelings of your mc -- I call these soliloquy scenes because they remind me of soliloquies in Shakespeare. I'll cover these scenes in a later post, so check back.

I did not invent the scene. I read many novels and got in the habit of noting where scenes begin and noting where they end . I also studied. Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene and Structure by Jack Bickman is my go-to handbook for scene writing. This is one handy book. You would do yourself a favor to read it.

You must become an expert of the scene to effectively write novels.  There is no way around this. You can have grammar, plot, setting, and character down 100%, but if you can't write scenes, you can't write a novel. This is important, folks!

I will be back with more next week about scenes. I will see you then!  Seize the day!

Here is the doodle: Thunderhead.

And finally a quote for your pocket.

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

(Little Gidding) T.S. Eliot


Nissa Annakindt said...

I became more aware of scenes when I downloaded YWriter (free writing software). It prompts you to set up your novel in chapters, and in scenes within the chapters. Both scenes and chapters can be moved around in YWriter which is great when you have a scene but don't know where it goes yet.

MollyMom103 said...

Hi Nissa! Yes, YWriter and Scrivner are both useful for scene and chapter manipulation. Thanks for dropping by and sharing. I think that awareness of scene is a game changer in terms of successful story creation. All best on your creative journey.