Monday, September 26, 2005

Making a Scene

I was doing another critique on OWW the other day and came across a piece that, while overall showed quite a bit of promise, also showed the author seemed to be having trouble with creating scenes. Time in the story seemed to pass with unsettling abruptness. Some of the scenes were three or four sentences long and didn't seem to complete the action that was begun in the first sentence. I suggested that many of the scenes could be combined into one, even though in many cases several hours or days had passed between each one. Yes, this would change the timeline of the story somewhat, but not significantly so, I didn't think. Of course, it's equally possible that the author was just posting outlines for the scenes he would write later, though I would have to wonder why he was interested in critiques at this point in the story's evolution if that were the case.

Each scene is like a miniature short story. It should have an introduction, a climax, and an ending. You should be able to take each scene and point to exactly its purpose in the overall story. If you can't, or if the purpose is mostly "to add character" to the piece, then you should seriously consider cutting it out. Adding richness and detail is important, as I mentioned a couple of days ago, but there are better ways to do it than to simply write a scene for it. Use that richness to make the critical scenes even more powerful. I'm a firm believer in not worrying about the length of a fiction piece. The story will take as much space as it needs. If you were trying to write a novel, but the tighter, more powerful version turns into a short story, so be it. Let the story decide!

One thing I think all of us have to continually work on, though, is transitions between scenes. We are so used to the "fade to commercial" breaks of television that we try to write scene transitions that way in our novels. While this technique can work if used sparingly, it is weaker than writing transitions that further each scene's connection into a unified whole. I just recently broke down and bought a copy of McKee's Story book, which is supposedly a distillation of his famous seminars on the topic. My only real fear is that McKee is talking to Hollywood scriptwriters, not novelists. While the prinicples of story are the same in both media, the enacting of those principles can be very different. I like the voice of my fiction writing, and several editors have said they do as well. I'm a little leery of losing that to the coldness of a script format. I think the insight into structure and plotting that I hope to gain from this book are worth the risk, though.

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