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Scene and Structure

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palmer



Joined: 30 Mar 2004
Posts: 1324
Scene and Structure  Reply with quote  

I recently read a book called Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham. I thought I'd post a couple of ideas from it in case it interested anyone, and/or drew comment. I'm interested in what people think of the ideas, especially, of course, AG when he returns.

The book recommends good scene structure: every scene must have a clear scene question, identifiable early in the scene, followed by conflict, and ended by an answer to the scene question, which must be one of: "No", "Yes, but...", or "No, and furthermore..." (scene disasters). Scenes are usually followed by sequels (a misnomer, if you ask me) where the viewpoint character reacts, and formulates an intention which leads to the next scene question. This produces a chain of escalating scenes, which form a thickening plot, which answers the basic story question only at the very end. Along the way, chapters are ended at suitable points (first choice, scene disasters; second choice, the viewpoint character's newly formulated intention...) so that the reader will turn the page. One can see what Brown and others were up too, although they sometimes sacrifice way too much in other areas in order to achieve it.

I found this way of looking at things a real eye opener, particularly in the three possible "scene answers".

For whatever it's worth...

Post Mon Dec 20, 2004 4:45 pm   View user's profile Send private message
Ferrit Leggings



Joined: 29 Mar 2004
Posts: 2658
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That is good advice about having in mind what you want to do and accomplish in what you are writing but I have one problem and that is interest. Not the interest of the reader but of the writer. I have some out of the ordinary ideas for books and stories but after plotting out exactly where I want the story to go and the characters the spark to write is gone. I am bored with it because I know what is going to happen. I like to discover what is going to happen like a reader.

I plotted out a book about Native Americans living in Antarctica. They left America because of all of the people coming over and taking their land. They were discovered by an expedition looking for oil in the Artic regions. One thing leads to another Leviathan is awaken and chaos rules. I loved the idea but after plotting it I was bored with it. What ended up happening is I shelved the idea and went on to another idea which I plotted out and then shelved. It was about Hell and it not really being hellish at all. Now I am back to writing the fake autobiography, rewrite.

I went through almost a year of researching the story about Native Americans and it is still sitting there. The point I think I am making or trying to make is that all the preparation in the world doesnít help create interest in doing it. Those are good ideas about scenes and how to write them but for some reason I am drawn to writers like Eggers, Hornby and Delingpole who seem to have no point to their discourse but it ends up making some sense in the end. Vonnegut was great at it as well. He would ramble on about something that didnít make much sense at the time and then suddenly it would. I am biased though. Another one who did it well was DNA, Douglas Adams.

There can be problems with it. I remember reading a story about DNA where he made a specific point to point something out in one part of one of his books and then forgot to make the point with what he pointed out after he finished it. I believe it was in Salmon of Doubt.

What I did and the problem I ran into was that I planned too much and I bogged me down. I may come back to those ideas but right now I need to do that rewrite and sell the *@$^(&^ thing. I have the chapters planned out in my head and I think about them throughout the day and when I am home I sit and write what I have thought out. I donít write too much about what I am going to write because in the back of my mind I am constantly going over what I want to say. It may be too much for my brain to write it all down because I am thinking about it all throughout the day. I guess it is multitasking.

I think most writers have those ideas in mind when they are writing. Oddly, most of my ideas just come to me out of nowhere and then I slowly piece it together. I start with a general idea like what if some Native Americas got pissed off and left or wouldnít it be cool making a fake biography.

That is my piece of rambling advice.

Ta,

Back to making stuff up.
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Post Mon Dec 20, 2004 5:47 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Ted J



Joined: 14 Nov 2004
Posts: 669
Location: Northern VA
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Please take my input with a grain of salt since I don't have the opportunity to do much fiction writing.

Ferrit, I tend to approach my writing the same way. I have some ideas in my head and I let them flow. I want to get things on paper first and, normally, one thought generates another creative idea and so on. However, I think there's value to using a structured approach, like the one Palmer describes, as you review and rewrite. It gives you the opportunity to step back and decide if you've actually conveyed something in a coherent manner. The structure gives you something to use as a reality check.
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Post Mon Dec 20, 2004 6:22 pm   View user's profile Send private message
Ferrit Leggings



Joined: 29 Mar 2004
Posts: 2658
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What I am doing is taking what I wrote before and rewriting it in a different way. It is still the same story and characters but told in a different manner. The way I originally wrote it was to have a flowing piece where you needed to reading chapter to chapter to get the main idea. It was plotted out and I though written well but then I had the idea to take the book and separate the story into stories where each chapter functions on its own but relates to the complete work. Everything that I have written before needed to function as a whole and it made it drag. As much as I admire people like Dan Brown and their ability to write novels that function as a whole I somehow like the storytelling of Lee Stringer, James Delingpole, David Sedaris and some of Vonnegutís work where as you can read a chapter and feel fulfilled. My idea is to tell an aimless story of meaning. The characters remain the same in each chapter, some are added or taken away as needed but there are two main characters and a complete story is being told through short stories.

I am keeping with the idea of structure in a shorter form and ultimately in a longer one but I am not going to let structure take away from the telling of the story. It may not sound clear but it is to me. Some writer are slaves structure and donít take chances but what I would like to do is make something that is complete when you put it all together but also functions separately. I donít write stories where there is a lot of mayhem going on so the conflicts are not as perceptible as say in a detective novel.

I guess I want to try something different and see if it works.

ta,
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Post Mon Dec 20, 2004 7:05 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
hdm



Joined: 04 Nov 2004
Posts: 138
Location: Eau Claire, WI
Keep in mind...  Reply with quote  

I think the quote that I refer back to the most whenever I am looking at writing books is this:

"When everyone is looking for gold, it's a good time to be in the pick and shovel business."
- Mark Twain

My feeling is that everyone who writes a "how to write" book is in the pick and shovel business. I am kind of a cynic that way.

That being said, I know people who CAN'T write with an outline...and people like me that need a goal or end in sight to finish. In order to actually make it through my first rough draft, I found worksheets that helped me articulate everything - character, plot, scene maps, etc so I could finish the damn thing. Yeah it kind of sucks, but now I can FIX it and putz around and add more ideas, etc. I just needed the sense of accomplishment in order to know I could do it. The details can come later. That's just me though.

Everyone writes differently. If you find something that you think will actually really help you do it - go ahead and try it.

The one you mention has one drawback for me, personally. It wants you to wrap chapters up in neat packages and have the main character resolve to do something next. "Answer the scene question." I much prefer the cliffhanger chapter. Crichton is a master at that. You can't NOT keep reading. Some people say, "Well, I'll just finish the chapter." My personal belief is that I would never want them to be able to put the book down at the end of a chapter. I don't want the scene question answered. I want it to end with the next scene's question. Then break off to someone else's narrative. Make them want to know what happens to the other characters next so bad that they can't put it down. That's what makes those authors addictive to me. I can't put it down. I have to know whether or not they die, or the bad guy wins or whatever. It's hard to sustain throughout a story, but it needs to happen near the end...

That's my two cents on that.

Post Sun Dec 26, 2004 9:24 am   View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Ferrit Leggings



Joined: 29 Mar 2004
Posts: 2658
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What I want to do is have fulfilment in each chapter but have a theme that ties each one together so that the reader wants to keep on reading. I myself donít care much for the cliff-hanger chapters. What I like are elements carried over from one chapter to another. I have tried cliff-hangers it in the past and it doesnít work for what I am writing. I think the reader will feel cheated if I do something like that, reason being that it is not an action related story where the characters are put into situations that would warrant such a thing.

Ta,
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Post Sun Dec 26, 2004 10:04 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Hillary



Joined: 13 Apr 2004
Posts: 1767
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Quote:
My idea is to tell an aimless story of meaning


I like that concept, but personally, cannot execute it. It's like writing a Seinfeld script. I feel like I'm losing focus, that my story is meandering, and I *hate* feeling lost when I'm writing.

Funny enough - I don't write outlines. I think they're restrictive. I get a general plot, might write some notes on certain things I don't want to forget, and - if I'm feeling really crazy (dabbling in a fantasy setting or writing something with 8 billion characters) - I'll make a half-assed character bible.

I plot one or two chapters ahead at the most. In general, I approach the book like an equation. Each chapter is a variable, and if it doesn't directly help in achieving my sum, it's dropped. I do a lot of writing up front and pare down later. After Dark was originally over 215K words, and ended up somewhere around 175, I think. I felt I had a lot more freedom that way, because I was able to keep the meatiest parts and get rid of the dribble. Mind you, I'm still not sure I even LIKE After Dark - it was a first effort - but I learned a lot about my writing strengths/weaknesses from finishing it.

I'm sort of talking AROUND the main question here, aren't I? Scenes. Scenes are just smaller variables in my equation. The collection of scenes must equal the chapter, the collection of chapters must equal the sum storyline. When I approach it this way, everything I say has a purpose, and I don't feel like I'm talking at the reader. I feel like I'm telling him something he should know, something that will help him enjoy the story more.

I like my equation. I like the approach, because it works for me. Keeps me focussed.

So yes. Um, carry on.

Post Sun Dec 26, 2004 10:24 am   View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Ferrit Leggings



Joined: 29 Mar 2004
Posts: 2658
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Thanks Hillary I was beginning to think I was a bit crazy for trying something like what I am doing. Now all I have to do is write it and follow through which is that hard thing to do.
Ta,
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Post Sun Dec 26, 2004 11:00 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
palmer



Joined: 30 Mar 2004
Posts: 1324
Re: Keep in mind...  Reply with quote  

hdm wrote:


The one you mention has one drawback for me, personally. It wants you to wrap chapters up in neat packages and have the main character resolve to do something next. "Answer the scene question." I much prefer the cliffhanger chapter. Crichton is a master at that. You can't NOT keep reading. Some people say, "Well, I'll just finish the chapter." My personal belief is that I would never want them to be able to put the book down at the end of a chapter. I don't want the scene question answered.


That only happens if the answer is "yes". The writer reccomends "No", "No, and furthermore..." with the occasional "Yes, but..."

Then people read on to find out what the poor bastard is going to do next.

I do not reccomend this approach whole-heartedly, by the way, but I found it interesting. When I checked some of my own stuff against it, I found a large number of my scenes lacking, and I was able to improve them.


Last edited by palmer on Sun Dec 26, 2004 9:05 pm; edited 1 time in total

Post Sun Dec 26, 2004 12:29 pm   View user's profile Send private message
chris
Site Admin


Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
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The guide to scene structure sounds a little strict to me, but if it makes your work better, then it's good. Often rules of that sort are applied much more effectively in rewriting rather than in writing. The fewer rules you have when writing a first draft, the better chance that you may actually be able to indulge a moment of inspiration.

I completely understand Ferrit's inability to go forward after an outline is done. I'm not that different. The thing that allows me the joy of discovery, even if a story is fairly well planned, is the comedy. Usually that happens on the page, and there's no plan whatsoever for it. I just go where it wants to take me.

I heard Brian Garfield,(Deathwish, Hopscotch) a very successful suspense writer, speak back in the eighties on this subject. He said he couldn't tolerate writing a story after he had outlined it because it felt finished already. He couldn't even adapt his own stuff to the screen because in his head it was already done. When, finally, they offered his so much money to adapt his book Hopscotch that he couldn't refuse, what he did was turn his very straight suspense novel into a comedy, just to get himself to finish it.

As always, whatever works, works, but anything that keeps you from writing because it puts a heavier editor on your shoulder should be cast off until you have a finished first draft.

On a very practical basis, I don't know if Lawrence Block's how-to columns from Writer's Digest have ever been collected, but if they have, I'd encourage you to buy that collection. His articles on writing were so hands on, and so applicable to the situatioins you run across every day, that I can't help but think that they would help anyone who is trying to tell stories. Plus he has the added credibility of having written many successful and entertaining books, a feat which most "how to" writers cannot claim.

Ahhh! Just found these:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0688146902/ref=pd_sim_b_2/002-0477428-4872019?%5Fencoding=UTF8&v=glance

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0688132286/qid=1104097497/sr=1-9/ref=sr_1_9/002-0477428-4872019?v=glance&s=books


http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0898792088/ref=pd_sim_b_2/002-0477428-4872019?%5Fencoding=UTF8&v=glance

Post Sun Dec 26, 2004 2:43 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
palmer



Joined: 30 Mar 2004
Posts: 1324
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chris wrote:
The guide to scene structure sounds a little strict to me...


That's partly my fault. There are variations on the structure of both scene and sequel that give it a lot more flexiblilty than my oversimplification would suggest.

Quote:
Often rules of that sort are applied much more effectively in rewriting rather than in writing. The fewer rules you have when writing a first draft, the better chance that you may actually be able to indulge a moment of inspiration.


Agreed. I wouldn't want to rough out a scene with this as a yardstick, but it encourages me to look at what I've written and ask myself, "Okay, did anything actually happen here?"


Thanks for recommending Lawrence Block. I found one of his books at the local bookstore, and have started reading it. It looks interestiing and, as you say, "hands on".

Post Thu Dec 30, 2004 7:01 pm   View user's profile Send private message
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