Thursday, May 31, 2012
Scene structure -- writing tip
We went to press yesterday, with another new book by C.M. Albrecht. And now for a question from my e-mail.
Question: A writer in my group just throws in a scene break any time she wants to change viewpoint. And yes, I agree with her that you DO need one if you are going to change the viewpoint character. But sometimes there are three "scene breaks" within ONE conversation. Isn't a scene supposed to have structure, too? Shouldn't there be more reason for a change of scene than just because you want another character to react by thinking something?
Answer: Yes, dramatic scenes should be structured and they should have a dramatic dynamic. Having too many very short scene breaks can make a manuscript feel "choppy" to the reader and cause him or her to lose interest in the action.
Every dramatic scene has the same structure. Here it is:
1. Transition, preferably with hook
2. Rising action and dialogue
3. Turning point of the scene (the place where something changes forever)
(if nothing changes, the scene goes, no matter how well written)
4. End/resolution of the scene, preferably with another hook. Usually when we come to the end of a scene,
* * *
we indicate it with the double line break, at least two extra lines of "white space" and most people use the three stars, a line, or some other indication, if someone will use their manuscript to typeset a book one day. Many typesetting programs close up all blank lines. Small publishers, and even big ones, usually use the electronic manuscript file the author sends to typeset the manuscript. This is why it has become so important to send in pristine manuscripts.
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, STOP and end with a question, regardless of what else might have happened in real time.
If you are in one character's viewpoint, and want to show what another character is thinking, there are other ways than saying "she thought."
One way to get emotion across for a character, when we're in another character's viewpoint, is to use body language to express their inner feelings. We all read body language all the time. It does no good for someone to tell us, "I'm not upset at all," if their face is red, and their arms are crossed firmly on their chest, while one foot jerks from the knee.
There is almost no difference between the reader's reaction to the following in a scene where Mary is lying to Colin and you want to indicate that he thinks she's lying. The first way uses the example of a switch to his viewpoint.
Mary tried her best to convince Colin that she had not be unfaithful.
* * *
Colin thought she was lying.
* * *
Mary stared at him, wondering how she could make him believe her.
* * *
She wasn't going to get away with this, Colin thought, as he slammed the door.
Mary tried her best to convince Colin that she had not been unfaithfil. No matter how many times she told him so, he just stood there and stared with a look of disbelief on his face.
"You have to believe me. John means nothing to me! It's you I love." She wept as Colin turned, walked out, and slammed the door.
Example one shows us Colin's thoughts from inside his head. But in example two, we have no doubt as to what Colin is thinking, do we?