So I'm loving Jack Bickham's Scene and Structure. I'm not reading it cover to cover, but instead using the open-a-random-page-and-learn-something-new method. Today I opened to Chapter 10: Common Errors in Scenes & How to Fix Them.
Here's Bickham's list of all the things that could potentially go wrong in your scenes. (Note: It kind of reminds me of all the things that can happen to humans to kill or maim us. It's really surprising any of us make it to adulthood. Or that any novels are error-free.)
1. Too many people in the scene. (Mary, Margaret, Madge, Marge, Bob, Bill, Will, and Lakwanjala the Killer Clown all went into the costume store.)
2. Cicularity of argument. (Did not! Did so! Did not! Did so! Yawn.)
3. Unwanted interruptions. (The phone rang. So? It makes it more like real life, but I'm reading a book. I don't want real life.)
4. Getting off the track. (Oops. I just wrote four pages that has nothing to do with the conflict of the killer clowns. But I know you wanted to know the exact layout of the costume store.)
5. Inadvertent summary. (And then Jeff thought to himself, "This really sucks that the clown costume isn't at the store. Poor Billy will be so sad. In fact, the tantrum he's throwing now shows how sad he is.")
6. Loss of viewpoint. (Whose head am I in now?)
7. Forgotten scene goal. (Why am I here again?)
8. Unmotivated opposition. (The killer clown is being nasty just to be nasty. It's easier this way.)
9. Illogical disagreement. (You don't want Billy to be a clown for Halloween because you don't like cucumbers?)
10. Unfair odds. (The killer clowns have knifes, revolvers, exploding nose grenades AND will tickle me to death? ACK!)
11. Overblown internalizations. (I am going to think to myself just how awful these clowns are until the reader can't take it anymore.)
12. Not enough at stake. (Tell me why I care. I don't.)
13. Inadvertent red herrings. (It wasn't the clowns- it was the butler! Follow the butler with the bloody knife!)
14. Phony, contrived disasters. (Ack! Killer clowns attacked just as an earthquake hit and a place crashed too!)
Whew! Okay, so Bickham says we rarely make more than one of these mistakes per scene. Have you ever made any of these mistakes? (Maybe not with killer clowns.) Or read a book with one that made you groan out loud?
Ha! I'm glad you like Scene and Structure. It's not for beginners, but for anyone with some practice at writing, it is very, very useful.
Great list! I have trouble with too many characters. Sometimes group A meets group B and then I have 6 characters all in the same scene! Yikes!
7. Forgotten scene goal can be an issue -- not in and of itself, but usually within the larger context.
Number 8 is definitely something I struggle with on occasion. I've more or less been able to avoid number 1 simply by splitting characters into different groups and sending them on divergent paths.
And yep, definitely done number 5 before.
So... I was unable to absorb the situations and compare them to my own writing because I was laughing too hard about the killer clowns and their misadventure. You should totally write a kid's book-- I mean a horror book about this. A horror comedy satire. Yeah.
Oh, and to answer your point, while I can't point to any particular examples (because your killer clowns are cavorting in my cranium [see what I did there?]), I can say with certainty that I have at least considered doing each of these at any given time during all of my writing. Let's hope I caught myself each time and did something different.
confused scene goals are probably what I struggle most with on that list because I don't always decide what the purpose of a scene is until after I've written it --and then I have to decide if it actually is necessary/ needs to be fleshed out to have any relevance/ needs to be trimmed because it keeps getting side tracked.
Gary- Yep, I'm definitely enjoying it. Thanks for the recommendation!
Aubrie- Group A and Group B sound like gangs. I had a sudden image of the gang sing-off in West Side Story. LOL
Bane- I think that's probably the one I struggle with the most, especially with my non-outlining attempt on Book #2.
Matt- I have to make a concerted effort to give the antagonist a reason to be nasty. Some people really are just nasty in real life.
L.T.- Glad you enjoyed the clowns! I got a chuckle out of them as I wrote the post. Even though I really don't like clowns. At all.
Taryn- You said it. That's the problem I'm having now. I'm definitely an outliner.
Thanks for this! It's very, very helpful! I'm very guilty of #4.
Pick one? You gotta be kidding! I guess the scene where I have seven or eight women arguing about something confusing and not getting anywhere while some of them internalize shit about the above might qualify. You think?
Thanks - I'll post this somewhere where I can see it as I revise.
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