Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Revising Scenes or Attack of the Alpacas

Today's lesson from Jack Bickham's Scene and Structure is on revising scenes for maximum effect. Essentially, everything you do when you revise must keep the story on track and serve to move the story forward.

1. The goal of each scene must clearly relate to the story question in some way. (I must see the relevance of introducing these angry, spitting alpacas.)

2. The conflict must be about the goal. (That's right, we were trying to trek to Machu Picchu when we realized these alpacas weren't the friendly variety.)

3. The conflict must be with another person or persons, not internally, with oneself. (If I spend ten pages inside the guide's head worrying about whether he'll get fired for not securing cute, fuzzy llamas ahead of time my reader will end up snoring.)

4. Once a viewpoint has been established and that viewpoint character's problem and goal have been stated, it's wise to remain with that same single viewpoint through the disaster. (In other words, don't switch from the guide's POV to the alpaca's. That would just be silly.)

5. Disaster works (moves the story forward) by seeming to move the central figure further back from his goal, leaving him in worse trouble than he was before the scene started. (Yes, the alpacas allowed everyone to mount, but then took off running in the wrong direction after leaving the supplies behind.)

6. Readers will put up with a lot if your scenes only keep making things worse! (First the alpacas spit in the adventurers' faces, but then they dropped one of the men down a ravine. Then bandits appeared and demanded everyone's money. And bananas.)

7. You can seldom, if ever plan, write, or revise a scene in isolation of your other plans for the story, because the end of each scene dictates a lot about what can happen later. (If the conflict is whether the expedition will reach Machu Picchu and then there's a scene about saving a local village from an attack of killer clowns, you've lost your audience.)

Yeah, you know I had to put the clowns in there somewhere.

Are there any of these rules that you break? I'll admit that I've allowed my protagonists some down time to enjoy life, but that only serves to heighten the tension when I yank it all away from them. I've also jumped to another person's POV to finish a scene to show it from a different angle, but now I'm rethinking that one.

What about you?


Court Ellyn said...

Oh, goodness. I found myself cringing when I read #3. Yeah, sometimes my characters are such tortured individuals, so much inner turmoil that they can't help contemplating their torturedness along the way. One of my favorite authors seemed to accomplish this very thing in gorgeous, alluring prose, so I figured it was safe for everyone. Hmmm... maybe not.

L. T. Host said...

I generally think these are all good guidelines, but as usual, I mostly tend to ignore guidelines when it suits my writing :) I do give my characters down time in some stories and not in others, it all depends on what the down time is trying to accomplish. But yes, I wholeheartedly agree it does raise the stakes for when more bad gets piled on later.

Anita Saxena said...

Hilarious, yet a noteworthy post.