Sunday, November 06, 2005

Scene Analysis

I've been continuing to work with McKee's Story and there are quite a few great points in here. I sometimes think that while is certainly a great writer and a great theorist of writing, he's not a terribly good teacher. I've run into this many times before. In science, in particular, there are many excellent scientists who might can tell you how they do what they do -- but they can't tell it in such a way that you can actually learn it. McKee is not quite that bad, and as he's gotten to the more practical info, I find I'm not having to work so hard to understand what he's trying to say. Still, as a teacher myself, I find myself wishing he was a bit more of one.

One of the more clear techniques he provides is for scene analysis. It is a five-step procedure that goes something like this:

  • Define the conflict. Remember, if there is no conflict in the scene, then it probably serves no useful purpose in the story.
  • Note the opening value. This could be anything from justice to love to faith. it will either be in a positive or a negative state.
  • Break the scene into "beats." A beat is one exchange between the characters. You should be able to describe not just the outward events, but the subtext, the meaning behind what is being said. Usually this can be described in a single word (pleading, ignoring, etc.)
  • Note the closing value and compare with the opening value. Did the value change from positive to negative or vice versa? If not, nothing has happened in this scene, and it probably needs to be cut (or if it is exposition, find some way to include it in a real scene).
  • Examine the beats and find the tunring point. This is the moment when the character does something with some expectation, but the result is not at all what he predicted (what McKee calls the "Gap"). This resulting tension is what drives the scene.

It's a good way at looking things. While you may think it's a lot of work to go through every scene in your story this way, I think you'd be amazed at how transparent it makes your story structure!

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