Thursday, February 4, 2010

Scene Structure -- Writing Tip

The first good advice I was given by my then agent, Denise Marcil, was "write in scenes."

Unfortunately, I didn't know what she meant, exactly. That's why she didn't remain my agent very long, though she sold lots of good books by lots of other good authors.

Still, her advice is as good now as it was then. Your story should be structured in scenes and each scene has the same structure within the story. Here it is:

1. Transition, preferably with hook. (Who, when, where, and end with an unanswered question)

2. Rising action and dialogue

3. Turning point of the scene (the place where something important changes)
(if there's no point, the scene goes, no matter how well written)

4. End/resolution of the scene, preferably with another hook. When we come to the end of a scene,

* * *

we indicate it with the double line break of "white space" AND three stars, or some other indication, in case the line break falls at the bottom of a page. Once the turning point is reached, then a final hook for that scene is set, and the scene ends. The Scene Ends Right There! Yes, as soon as the point is made, regardless of what else might have really happened later.

Say for instance a medical examiner is called to the scene of a murder. He looks at the corpse and at the uniformed cop on standby, then says, "He's done it again. This is the same as the last one."

That's the final point of the scene, because we have let the reader know a serial killer is on the loose. Now after this line, the criminalists may descend, take photographs and fingerprints, pick up blood samples, and eventually the body will be removed leaving the inevitable tape outline on the floor, but to show the reader all that would be anticlimactic, because the point had already been established. Once your serial killer is on the loose, end the scene, and get on to the next scene where your detective is hot on the trail instead of wasting your and the readers time on pointless action, however well written. Most short stories have three major turning points and coincidentally three major scenes.

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