Monday, April 19, 2010
Bad scenes go in the bin!
1) Each scene is a capsule that depicts a specific story event. That event relates to the events in each of the other scenes, and when the writer strings all the scenes together, s/he's got a book.
2) Each scene moves the plot and characters ever forward toward the story's resolution and conclusion. When we discussed plot, we determined that to hold together and carry the story weight, the plot had to contain specific elements. Well, a scene has to carry its weight, too. Something essential to the whole (novel) must be in a scene to justify its place (and space) in the novel. That justification is an earned right—each scene must prove that including it is essential. Otherwise, in editing, it gets the ax.
3) Every scene needs an inciting incident, a spark that sets the scene in motion. Think of this as the cause that incites an effect (remember, in plot, we worked from cause to effect to cause to effect) that links the scenes to each other. (What happens in a scene causes the next scene to happen, and so on.)
4) In each scene, the character has a goal and a strategy for reaching that goal. If the character doesn't want anything, then the scene lacks purpose. If the character doesn't have "a plan" (ill-conceived, halfcocked plans are fine; there must just be some semblance of one which motivates the character to act) to get what s/he wants, and there is no one trying to stop him/her from getting it, then you've got no scene goal/strategy and worse, no conflict. If there is no conflict, you have no story—applied to the scene, you'd have no scene.
5) Each scene has a resolution. Now the scene resolution might carry the character closer to his/her goal, or push him/her further away from it. It also might cause the character to change from one goal to another. The point is, there is a sense of closure, on having gotten all we're able to get from this scene, and there is movement. Each scene resolves (goes from beginning to middle to end), preparing the way for the next scene or the story's conclusion.
Do keep in mind that just because a scene is wonderfully written and lyrical and pleasant to read doesn't mean you keep it in your novel. Every scene requires conflict. Without it, the scene can't be justified. As I said (but it's worth repeating because it's so important), every scene carries the burden and blessing of advancing the story. If it doesn't, then it shouldn't be there. Run a check on your scenes to make sure the elements are there. It's a great way to tighten your writing—and to help bulletproof your manuscript.